BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive branch warned Hungary and Poland Tuesday that it will take action if they continue to violate the 27-nation bloc’s democratic standards, amid signs that both countries have little intention of changing their ways.
Hungary and Poland have faced criticism in the EU for years over allegations that they are eroding judicial and media independence, among other democratic principles. Last week, Hungary passed a new law banning content portraying or promoting homosexuality or sex reassignment to anyone under 18.
“Freedom of expression needs to be protected, and no one should be discriminated (against) on the basis of sexual orientation,” European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said. “The commission is now looking into the law and assessing if it breaches EU law.”
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the law “does not correspond to any values defended by the European Union. People have the right to live the way they want, really, we are no longer in the Middle Ages.”
But his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, argued that the law protects children. He said it allows “parents to educate their kids regarding sexual orientation until the age of 18.”
More generally, Jourova told reporters, the degradation of democratic standards in Hungary “covers a wide range of issues and we don’t see a meaningful effort from the Hungarian authorities to find a common ground with the European values as stated in the (EU) treaties.”
Speaking to reporters in Luxembourg after taking part in a tense debate on the issue between EU ministers, Jourova also expressed concern about developments in Poland.
“We can see an increasing influence of the executive over the judicial branch and instead of willingness to dialogue, we witness further steps towards confrontation,” she said.
Jourova said the commission will hand down a new report in July on the state of the rule of law across the EU.
In an effort to alter the course of Hungary and Poland, Brussels last year established a system that would tie member countries’ access to EU funds to their adherence to democratic principles.
The two initially tried to block the EU’s budget to thwart the introduction of the rule of law mechanism, but they eventually agreed to the plan on condition that it would be reviewed by Europe’s top court, the European Court of Justice. The court is yet to hand down its verdict and neither country is backing off.
“The commission is ready to work with both Poland and Hungary as we always favor dialogue and sincere cooperation over conflict or legal disputes. But we are ready to use all the tools at our disposal if proven necessary,” Jourova said.
Earlier this month, EU lawmakers threatened to sue the commission if it fails to act against them.