EU considers legal action against Poland for LGBTQ rights

(Bloomberg) – The European Union is working on a possible lawsuit against Poland for its crackdown on LGBTQ rights, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The move, which has yet to be finalized, could take place as early as next month, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private. This would be in response to the so-called “LGBTQ-free zones” of Poland.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, declined to comment. Cities and provinces in Poland have declared themselves “free from LGBTQ ideology” to prevent pride parades and other gay-friendly events from taking place. By mid-last year, nearly a third of municipalities in the Catholic country of 38 million had adopted the declaration, often after lobbying by ultra-conservative groups.

Several Polish courts have ruled that the measures are unconstitutional and discriminatory – and although the statements have no legal meaning, they have fueled fear and discrimination. ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based charity, claims Poland is the worst place in the EU for LGBTQ people. During last year’s election campaign, President Andrzej Duda called homosexuality a “foreign ideology” which is “worse than communism”.

Financial cost

Any legal action could drag on for years and would start with the commission of an infringement procedure. The EU would inform the country, which has some possibilities to correct the infringement. If the commission determines that the nation has not implemented the required changes, it can take the case to the European Court of Justice, which could ultimately impose a fine if the nation does not comply with a first decision finding a violation of EU law.

A decision to act in this way would add to evidence that the EU is taking a tougher stance against member states that violate bloc values, difficult political terrain to roam as far-right parties vie for votes. before the general elections in Germany, France and Hungary.

The EU has fought for years against Poland and Hungary on many rule of law issues which have so far often led to few concrete sanctions. This too runs the risk of becoming another protracted battle that Poland and Hungary simply ignore.

Any potential action would follow the bloc’s response to legislation passed in Hungary earlier this month, where Viktor Orban’s government banned underage content that could be seen as “promoting homosexuality.”

The European Commission said in a letter sent to Budapest last week that it was taking legal action against the bill because it discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation.

The commission is currently analyzing Hungarian law before deciding on next steps, said a person familiar with the process.

Hungary’s legislation is part of a new regulation targeting pedophilia, and critics say it equates homosexuals with child molesters. It sparked an angry reaction from most states in the EU, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte telling Orban he could leave the EU amid a heated confrontation at a meeting of bloc leaders. last week.

More than a dozen governments signed a letter saying the law represented “a blatant form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

According to diplomats briefed on the meeting, Orban said the law is misunderstood and does not target homosexuality, and that he is ready to work with the European Commission on any possible breach.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told reporters the next morning that Poland and Slovenia were the only EU countries to side with Hungary at the summit.

Budget power

Equality Commissioner Helen Dalli has previously said Polish cities that declare themselves “LGBTQ free” should not receive EU funds.

The commission was given a new power this year that allows it to withhold distributions from its common budget of 1,200 billion euros ($ 1,400 billion) and a stimulus plan of up to 800 billion euros for rule of law violations.

Vera Jourova, EU vice president in charge of values, said in an interview with Bloomberg last month that the commission could trigger the mechanism later this year.

This means that if the committee can show that Poland’s actions have a direct impact on EU finances, then it can withhold budget distributions. Warsaw would risk losing up to 23.9 billion euros in stimulus subsidies if this mechanism were to be triggered.

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