By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News reporting from Budapest, Hungary
The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) final ruling provided legal and political cover to the European Commission, the EU’s executive, to flex its muscle
Brussels already froze COVID-19 recovery fund money worth 7 billion euro ($8 billion) for Hungary and 36 billion euro ($41 billion) for Poland, with more cuts expected following the ECJ’s Wednesday decision.
The ECJ dismissed the countries’ legal challenge against these measures saying the rule of law, as well as democratic and freedom standards, are conditions for EU membership.
Hungary and Poland were accused of allowing corruption and limiting the independence of courts, churches, media, and non-governmental organizations. Budapest and Warsaw have denied these charges and called Wednesday’s ruling politically motivated.
In Poland, Deputy Minister of Justice Sebastian Kaleta said the ECJ move amounted to “blackmail.” “We need to defend ourselves against an attack on our sovereignty; Poland has to defend its democracy against blackmail that aims to take away our right to decide about ourselves,” he said.
In Hungary, the conservative-leaning government told Worthy News it was punished for perceived anti-LGBTQ legislation known as the “child protection law.”
The recently introduced law prohibits “propaganda” and education about gay and transgender issues to minors, including in schools. “Sadly, we know very well that this rule-of-law argument is just a façade.
The ECJ’s decision is, in fact, an attack against Hungary’s child protection legislation,” added State Secretary Zoltán Kovács in a message to Worthy News.
He stressed the law was “aimed at keeping LGBTQ activists out of schools [and] protecting Hungarian children from propaganda in sex education.” Kovács said it was crucial to ensure “that decisions regarding their children’s upbringing remain the sole right of parents.”
Hungary’s Minister of Justice Judit Varga claimed that with its latest ruling, the ECJ had become a “political” actor. “A big, open international debate is taking place around our child protection law,” Varga noted.
The minister said Hungary’s views on child protection “gave rise to a big, new issue that’s causing this incredible attack on Hungary from Brussels.”
She explained that Hungary had received a letter from the EU “asking us to change our family and child protection laws” though they “fall far from Brussels’ sphere of authority.”
Kovács linked the tensions to a standoff with the EU over harsh anti-migration policies in 2016 when hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war, persecution, and poverty arrived in Hungary. “In 2016, we did not give in to the attacks and called for a referendum on migration, in which 98 percent of Hungarians refused Brussels’ migration policy,” he recalled.
“Since then, several other EU member states have adopted our migration policy. Time has proven us right. And it is exactly this course of action that we will follow regarding our law on child protection.”
Kovács said Hungarians give their opinion on the legislation in a referendum on April 3, the same day as parliamentary elections. “And they will confirm or refuse the policy direction put forward by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government.”
The opposition’s candidate for prime minister, the Catholic Péter Márki-Zay, has condemned Orbán’s willingness to risk billions of euros in aid that his nation still needs to overcome past decades of Communist dictatorship. “We will be loyal members of the European Union and NATO, not traitors,” said Márki-Zay.
On Friday, government ministers of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, known as the Visegrad Group, were due in Budapest to discuss the future of the EU’s “cohesion funds” amid the controversy.
Analysts say the ECJ ruling could not have come at a worse moment ahead of Hungary’s elections and when the EU already struggles to remain united towards Russia.
Hungary has already said it isn’t in favor of more sanctions against Russia for massing some 130,000-150,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders. Moscow says it has “no intention” to invade Ukraine. The Hungarian government also halts the integration of Ukraine into the EU and NATO military alliance. Budapest says Kyiv should first overturn a language law that it claims discriminates against ethnic Hungarians.
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