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LGBT rights in Hungary: what can Europe do to oppose Viktor Orbán?

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After being invited to Euro-2021, and after several European states have requested a reaction from the European Commission, the controversy surrounding the Hungarian bill will be discussed at the EU summit on Thursday and Friday. But faced with Viktor Orbán’s ultra-conservative policies, what can the European institutions do?

With its law, Hungary has “nothing more to do in the European Union (EU)”, estimated, Thursday, June 24, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on his arrival at a summit of the 27 countries of the EU in Brussels.

Ten days after the adoption by the Hungarian Parliament of a bill aimed at banning the “promotion” of homosexuality among minors, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, put the subject on the agenda from the summit of the Twenty-Seven, Thursday 24 and Friday 25 June.

Denounced by a majority of the countries of the European Union, which consider its provisions discriminatory for homosexual and transgender people, this law – which must come into force on 1er July – led 17 European countries (including France) to co-sign a declaration on Tuesday denouncing it and calling on the European Commission to react to this new policy coming out of the hat of Fidesz, the populist party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

On Wednesday, the President of the European Executive, Ursula von der Leyen, called the law a “shame”, angering Budapest and Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga, who invokes the “right to defend our families and to educate our children, a sovereign right in which there are no competing competences of the EU “.

So what can EU heads of state do? As Tania Racho, a doctor of European law, contacted by France 24, explains, the role of the European Council is simply to instill the orientations of the EU. “It’s interesting to think that the subject is seized by the European Council, but at best this will result in a few lines to reaffirm the values ​​of the EU: there can be no immediate legal consequences”. What is more, specifies the specialist in questions relating to fundamental rights, the EU has no competence in the field of human rights.

“Examine the law and see if and how it infringes European law”

Ban on the promotion of homosexuality or sex reassignment among minors, ban on educational programs or advertisements representing same-sex couples (like the Coca-Cola campaign which sparked boycott calls in 2019) … Films and series in which homosexuality is mentioned could also be prohibited for minors, the NGOs are alarmed.

It is therefore human rights that we are talking about. Especially since the bill in question is in fact a series of amendments tabled by the conservative Fidesz deputies, as part of an arsenal of measures taken against pedophilia. “Applying these amendments to a bill aimed at combating child abuse appears to be a deliberate attempt by the Hungarian government to confuse pedophilia with LGBTI people”, reacted in particular David Vig, the director of Amnesty International Hungary, citing legislation that “will further stigmatize LGBTI people” and “expose those already facing a hostile environment to even greater discrimination”.

It is this hostility that a large part of European leaders denounce today. Benelux, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Austria, Italy, Greece, Baltic and Scandinavian countries … The latter express their “deep concern” at the new law passed in mid-June, and await a reaction from the European Commission. Unlike the European Council, it “could initiate infringement proceedings against Hungary”, explains Tania Racho.

“We are examining the law and seeing if and how it infringes European law,” European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said on Tuesday. Indeed, the Commission has the power to initiate infringement proceedings for violation of EU law against a country, which may lead to a referral to the European Court of Justice. “It could start a political dialogue with Hungary, which could lead, in the event of non-reaction from the State, to the Court of Justice of the European Union”, adds Tania Racho, who then mentions the possibility of sanctions.

However, the problem that arises remains to find on what basis to claim that Hungary violates the law of the European Union. Nevertheless, affirms the academic, “the European Commission can be inventive and could for example find a hook on non-discrimination.”

The European Court of Human Rights, “more efficient”

“If we want to be more efficient, it is the European Court of Human Rights (the ECHR, a jurisdiction of the Council of Europe, editor’s note) which could be useful”, adds the lawyer, member of the collective academics “The Highlighters”, a legal fact-checking project consisting in verifying compliance with the right to political speech.

“Moreover, the states which oppose Hungary can themselves seize the ECHR”, she continues, conceding however that this can be delicate from a diplomatic point of view. “You don’t have to wait for someone to be sentenced in Hungary [suite à l’application de cette loi] for having spoken to minors on LGBT issues, before being able to seize the ECHR. “Here, the international court could in particular be seized on the basis of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression and “which appears to be violated by this Hungarian law which prohibits speaking out on LGBT matters to minors”.

This “hostile environment”, breeding ground for discrimination against the LGBTI community mentioned by the director of Amnesty International Hungary, has been maintained by Viktor Orbán since he came to power in 2010, through multiple reforms preventing progress of their rights in order, according to him, to preserve traditional Christian values. The latest example: the Hungarian constitution, described by Human Rights Watch as “discriminatory against LGBT people”, was amended for the ninth time last December to include the provision that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man “.

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