EU leaders vow to bring Hungary ‘to its knees’ over anti-LGBT law

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Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban arrives on the first day of a European Union (EU) summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on June 24, 2021. - Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban arrives on the first day of a European Union (EU) summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on June 24, 2021. - Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Western leaders have said they will bring Hungary "to its knees" over a law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools at a bitter EU summit on Thursday.

Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, said Hungary either "must leave" the EU or repeal the law, which bans TV shows and other content seen as championing LGBT lifestyles for the under-18s.

However, some eastern European governments refused to join 17 of the bloc's 27 countries in a rare joint statement condemning a fellow member state.

The Hungarian government hit back against what it called the EU's "shameful" interference in its domestic affairs.

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, said the law was about "defending the rights of the kids and the parents" and claimed to be a fighter for gay rights when Hungary was under communist rule.

"Homosexuality was punished, and I fought for their freedom and their rights," he said as he arrived at the summit. "So I am defending the rights of the homosexual guys. But this law is not about that."

Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg's gay prime minister, said he would confront Mr Orban, whose authoritarian rule has raised EU concerns over the rule of law in Hungary.

Xavier Bettel said he would be 'intolerant today with intolerant people' - JOHN THYS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Xavier Bettel said he would be 'intolerant today with intolerant people' - JOHN THYS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

"I will be intolerant today with intolerant people," Mr Bettel said. "If you really think that by watching a film or speaking in a classroom about sexual orientation makes you gay, he really doesn't understand anything."

Many young Europeans committed suicide after finding it impossible to accept their sexuality, Mr Bettel added as he described the summit showdown as "his fight".

"To accept yourself being gay was my most difficult thing… to hear now that it is because maybe I watched something on TV when I was younger is unacceptable. And to mix up paedophilia and pornography with homosexuality is unacceptable too," he said.

The Hungarian law "is not in line with our values and what Europe is" said Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who urged other EU countries to show "no weakness" in facing down Mr Orban.

While the EU has no power to force a country to leave, this could be achieved "step by step", Mr Rutte told reporters in Brussels. "My goal is to bring Hungary to its knees on this issue," he said.

"They must realise that they are either part of the European Union and this community of values, which means that in Hungary... no one can be discriminated against and [everyone] can feel free on grounds of sexuality, skin colour, gender whatever."

A decision by UEFA, European football's governing body, to forbid Munich from lighting its football stadium in rainbow colours when Germany played Hungary this week added fuel to the debate.

The European Commission is considering legal action against Hungary for the "child protection law", which bans schoolbooks and films that depict characters as anything other than as heterosexual. The European Court of Justice can impose fines on a country for breaking EU law.

There is also an EU treaty clause that could be used to suspend Hungary's voting rights in the EU, but that requires a unanimous decision by the other member states.

Hungary and Poland – both of which are already targets of EU legal action for undermining the democratic values – have a pact mutually shielding them from such a manoeuvre.

The commission presented the bloc's first five-year LGBTIQ equality strategy last year, but the issue remains highly divisive. Municipalities in Poland have approved the creation of "LGBT-free zone" motions, and there have been campaigns in Romania for a ban on same-sex marriage.

Neither country has endorsed the joint statement.

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