Hungary is being investigated, with a procedure started by the European Parliament on September 12, 2018, for violating EU values (for Poland, a similar procedure was opened by the Commission in December 2017). On Tuesday, the hearings for the two countries—the fourth for Poland, the third for Hungary—took place in front of the foreign ministers of the 27, in Luxembourg. According to the rapporteur for the Hungarian case, French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, it will be “difficult” to reach a concrete conclusion that could actually lead to the suspension of voting rights for Warsaw and Budapest at the Council (since the vote has to be unanimous and Poland and Hungary are supporting each other).
But on Wednesday there was considerable movement forward, which could change the situation, thanks to the scandal about lighting up the stadium in Munich with the colors of the rainbow for the Germany-Hungary soccer match, an initiative that was refused by UEFA for being “political.”
The EU is moving to defend its values and raise its voice against the new law voted in Hungary on June 15 against LGBT+ people. The Hungarian law has been added to the agenda of the European Council and was set to be discussed Thursday evening at dinner by the leaders of the 27.
That law is a “shame,” “clearly discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and it goes against all the values, the fundamental values, of the European Union,” said the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and “we will not compromise on these principles.” She said she instructed the Commissioners with the respective portfolios to write a letter to the Hungarian authorities in which the EC expressed its legal concerns before the law comes into force.
“I will use all the powers of the Commission to ensure that the rights of all EU citizens are guaranteed, whoever you are and wherever you live,” von der Leyen pledged. The president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, wrote to von der Leyen that the EC must “ensure full and immediate application of the regulation on respect of the rule of law. We are convinced that there have been flagrant violations of the principles of the rule of law by certain member states, which need to be sanctioned.” On Wednesday night, the European Parliament building was illuminated with rainbow colors.
Angela Merkel also spoke out on the Hungarian case: “I think this law is wrong, and it’s incompatible with my idea of politics.” Her spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, criticized UEFA for not allowing the stadium in Munich to be illuminated: “What does the rainbow stand for? It stands for how we want to live: with respect for one another, without discrimination of minorities who for a long time have been marginalized.”
France also seconded the use of the term “a shame” by the Commission regarding the Hungarian law, expressed its “deepest concern” and criticized UEFA, saying that the country “regrets” its decision, “because UEFA is certainly a religiously neutral and apolitical body, but it has values and has often acted in favor of promoting respect and the rights of minorities. From this point of view, it is renouncing those values. It does not want to make it a political act, but by renouncing that, it is making a political act.”
There is good news, according to the Elysée: the Commission is moving forward. Vice-president Margaritis Schinas (whose portfolio is defending the European way of life) said that “I find it very difficult to understand what UEFA is trying to do by going against this initiative of the Munich city council. Frankly, I do not find any reasonable excuse for that. They supported all the good causes. And all of a sudden, they make an issue out of this.”
In the face of the criticism, UEFA was apologetic, while not backtracking on its decision, and put up rainbow images on its social media. Viktor Orbán pretended he didn’t understand what the problem was, claimed he was a great defender of freedoms and compared his government favorably with the country’s communist regime, when “homosexuals were persecuted.” But he gave up on going to the game Wednesday evening.
For Tuesday’s hearing on Hungary, when the country had to explain itself for its attacks on the independence of the judiciary, limitations on freedom of expression, corruption, and disrespect for the rights of minorities, migrants and refugees, a group of countries signed a joint statement denouncing the anti-LGBT+ law. The initiative came from Belgium and was immediately joined by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Latvia, Greece, Austria and Cyprus.
Italy was not on the list initially, but its signature came in the evening. “There wasn’t anything behind that,” explained Undersecretary Amendola, claiming Italy had just been prudent and had waited to “evaluate” the opportunity for the Commission to deal with the case.