Change Edition

EU planning legal action against Poland on LGBTQ rights

EU planning legal action against Poland on LGBTQ rights

3 min. 29.06.2021 From our online archive
Withholding EU funds another tool as Eastern European states resist gay rights
Poles demonstrated last year in support of the EU's position on rule-of-law issues.
Poles demonstrated last year in support of the EU's position on rule-of-law issues.
Photo credit: AFP

The European Union is working on potential legal action against Poland over its crackdown on LGBTQ rights, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The move, which has yet to be finalized, could come as soon as next month, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private. It would be in response to Poland’s so-called “LGBTQ-free zones.”

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, declined to comment. Towns and provinces across Poland have declared themselves “free of LGBTQ ideology” to prevent pride parades and other gay-friendly events from going ahead. As of the middle of last year, almost a third of municipalities in the Catholic country of 38 million people had adopted the declaration, often after lobbying from ultra-conservative groups.

Several Polish courts have ruled that the measures are unconstitutional and discriminatory -- and while the declarations are legally meaningless, they have fuelled fear and discrimination. ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based charity, says Poland is the worst place in the EU for LGBTQ people. During last year’s election campaign, President Andrzej Duda referred to homosexuality as a “foreign ideology” that’s “worse than communism.”

Financial Cost

Any legal action could drag on for years and would begin with the commission initiating an infringement procedure. The EU would notify the country, which has a few opportunities to correct the infraction. If the commission determines that the nation has failed to implement the required changes, it can take the matter to the European Court of Justice, which ultimately could impose a fine if the nation fails to comply with a first ruling finding an EU law breach.

A decision to act in such a way would add to evidence that the EU is taking a harder stance against member states that contravene the bloc’s values, delicate political ground to tread as far-right parties vie for votes ahead of general elections in Germany, France and Hungary.

The EU has been battling for years against Poland and Hungary over numerous rule-of-law issues that have often, so far, led to little by way of concrete punishment. So this too runs the risk of becoming another protracted battle that Poland and Hungary just shrug off.

Any potential action would follow the bloc’s response to legislation passed in Hungary earlier this month, where Viktor Orban’s government outlawed content for minors that can be deemed to “promote homosexuality.”

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

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

The Hungarian legislation is part of new regulation targeting pedophilia, and critics say it equates homosexuals with child abusers. It drew an angry response from most EU states with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte telling Orban he could leave the EU during a heated confrontation at a meeting of the bloc’s leaders last week.

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

According to diplomats briefed on the meeting, Orban said the law was misunderstood and doesn’t target homosexuality, and that he’s ready to work with the European Commission over any possible infraction.

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told reporters the following morning that Poland and Slovenia were the only EU countries to side with Hungary during the summit.

Budget Power

Commissioner for equality, Helen Dalli, has previously said that Polish towns that declare themselves “LGBTQ free” should not receive EU funds.

The commission was endowed with a new power this year that allows it to withhold distributions from its €1.2 trillion ($1.4 trillion) joint budget and a stimulus plan of up to €800 billion over rule-of-law violations.

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

That means if the commission can show that Poland’s actions have a direct impact on the EU’s finances then it can withhold budget distributions. Warsaw would stand to lose out on as much as €23.9 billion of stimulus grants if this mechanism were triggered.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

More on this topic