European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – Photo: wikipedia

Von der Leyen demands amendment to Hungarian legislation

Ursula Von der Leyen has said Hungary must amend its paedophile law that "violates LGBTQI rights" or face legal action from the European Commission.

Addressing a European Parliament plenary debate on Wednesday following a meeting of the European Council on 24-25 June, the EC president said the Hungarian law had been a top priority of the EU heads of state and government.

Von der Leyen said the law “puts homosexuality on a par with pornography” and she called the law discriminatory and “disgraceful”. She added that the law was completely at odds with the EU’s core values.

The EC president said that if an EU member state breached the rule of law in a way that impinged on European taxpayers’ money and the EU budget, the EC was obliged to take action against it.

Vera Jourova, the European Commission’s vice-president in charge of transparency and values, said the Hungarian law discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and went against the EU’s fundamental values. She said there could be no compromise on equality and respect for human rights.

Though punishing paedophiles is a common goal, a legitimate public interest cannot be used as an excuse to introduce measures that violate basic rights and discriminate against a minority group on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Jourova said.

As regards the state of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland, Jourova said the situation was not improving in either country, adding that recent developments gave cause for concern. She highlighted the independence of the judiciary, media pluralism, the freedom of expression and the freedom of universities as areas of concern in Hungary.

This, she said, warranted continuing the ongoing Article 7 procedure against Hungary as long as these concerns persisted.

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, called the law “a matter of deep concern” among EU leaders, noting the disputed legislation had been the chief topic of the last council meeting.

He said the meeting had proved useful since Prime Minister Viktor Orban had been provoked to consider whether Hungary belonged in Europe. Also, it was reaffirmed that fundamental rights should be placed at the heart of EU activities, he said, adding that the EU had the means to enforce the rule of law.

In a speech to the assembly, Fidesz MEP Kinga Gal noted the EC had confirmed several times that protecting minorities against discrimination was the competence of member states rather than the EU. “Is the protection of minorities a national competence in some member states and not a national competence in others? Are some minorities to be protected by the EC while others not?” she asked.

She said Hungary had come under a concerted attack in the EU regarding Hungary’s child protection law, and yet the law aligned with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights that states parents have the right to educate their children based on their beliefs and that the child’s interests are supreme.

“The analysis that the Hungarian law is problematic because it discriminates against children in accessing certain content is absurd,” she said. “More than anything, the law protects children, and if the EU does not see this, it is worrying,” Gal added.

Gyorgy Holvenyi of Hungary’s co-ruling Christian Democrats defended Hungary’s child protection law saying that parents had a right to raise their children according to their beliefs. Hungarian children cannot receive sex education without the full consent of their parents, he added. “We cannot assign the task of sex education to activists under any circumstances,” Holvenyi said.

Klara Dobrev of the leftist opposition Democratic Coalition said Hungary had been “taken hostage by a politician who is rotten to the core using cynical, racist and homophobic policies”. She called on the EU to “stop financing [Prime Minister] Viktor Orban’s family members and oligarchs”.

The Momentum Movement’s Katalin Cseh called Hungary’s child protection law “a copy of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s law”, saying that it would make it illegal for teachers to talk to Hungarian secondary school students about acceptance and diversity.

After the plenary session, Fidesz MEP Balazs Hidveghi said the “political and ideological attack of the European Parliament’s leftist majority on Hungary has surpassed all imagination.”

The EP is ready to punish Hungary by launching procedures and withholding funding “for passing a law on a subject entirely under the state’s jurisdiction”, Hidveghi said.

“This is politically motivated blackmail, plain and simple. Those attacking us while citing European values are themselves breaching the rights and competencies laid down in EU treaties,” Hidveghi said.

He said it was “sad to see MEPs of the Hungarian opposition attacking the law and Hungary full force”.

“It seems that to them, money, power and complying with Brussels’s expectations are the most important objectives, and they do not shy away from attacking a decision of the Hungarian parliament with lies,” he said.

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