EU civil war: Von der Leyen begins legal battle against Viktor Orban’s anti-LGBT+ law

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The right-wing government introduced legislation that bans schools from using materials seen as promoting homosexuality. Earlier this month, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Hungary would face the full force of EU law if it did not back down, although she did not give details.

But officials close to the EU executive told Reuters the Commission will today send two letters to the Hungarian Prime Minister as the first step to issuing legal proceedings against the country.

Mr Orban will be given a two-month deadline to respond.

In one of the letters, the Commission will argue that Budapest’s rules violate the right to freedom of expression and information.

The second letter will concern an obligation imposed for a publisher of a children’s book to include a disclaimer that says the book shows “behaviour deviating from traditional gender roles”.

The EU executive will say that the rule breaches the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.

The anti-LGBTQ+ rules were sharply criticised by EU leaders at a summit last month, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte telling Budapest to respect Brussels’ values of tolerance or leave the 27-country bloc.

Mr Orban, who has been Hungary’s prime minister since 2010 and faces an election next year, has become more conservative and combative in promoting what he says are traditional Catholic values under pressure from the liberal West.

His government says the law is not aimed at homosexuals but is about protecting children, whose parents should play the main role in educating them about sexuality.

Last month, several leading European newspapers refused to run a paid advertisement signed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, saying they do not want to give space to a politician they accuse of subverting human rights and press freedom.

The one-page ad says that Brussels is building a “super-state,” denounces what it calls the “European Empire”, calls for the strengthening of national parliaments and stands up against closer European integration.

“The European Parliament proved to be a dead-end: it only represents its own ideological and institutional interests. The role of national parliaments needs to be strengthened,” the ad said.

In response, Herman Grech, editor in chief of The Times of Malta, which did not run the ad, wrote on Thursday that Mr Orban’s government had in effect “declared war on Hungary’s free press”.

They said: “We will not sit idly by as he takes advantage of it elsewhere.”

Belgian newspaper De Standaard also refused the ad and published its own full-page ad instead, in rainbow colours symbolizing LGBT rights, with the text “Dear Viktor Orban, laws should never distinguish love from love”.

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Karel Verhoeven, editor-in-chief of the paper, called the anti-LGBT law “a blatant violation of human rights”.

Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter also followed suit and asked for an interview with Orban instead, editor-in-chief Peter Wolodarski wrote on Twitter.

Two other newspapers in Belgium, La Libre Belgique and De Morgen, also refused to print the ad.

It was printed by newspapers Le Figaro in France, ABC in Spain, Jyllands-Posten in Denmark and Mlada fronta Dnes in the Czech Republic.

The Spanish government last month approved the draft of a bill to allow anyone over the age of 14 to change gender legally without a medical diagnosis or hormone therapy, the first large EU country to do so, in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT+) rights.

French President Emmanuel Macron has called the split over values between eastern countries such as Hungary, Poland and Slovenia as a “cultural battle”.

The Commission will today also send a letter to Poland over its government’s failure to provide more details on some of the country’s self-proclaimed LGBT-free zones.

The letter will question whether places with such discrimination could receive EU taxpayers’ money.

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