Leaders of 17 EU states call on bloc to fight LGBT discrimination as summit begins

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In an open letter to European Union chiefs ahead of an EU summit in Brussels starting Thursday, the leaders of 17 member states called on the bloc to fight anti-LGBT discrimination, saying that "respect and tolerance are at the core of the European project". The move comes in the wake of a new Hungarian law that bans sharing content on homosexuality or gender reassignment with people under 18.

The leaders of more than half of the EU's member states insisted Thursday that discrimination must not be tolerated in the 27-nation bloc, setting the scene for a heated summit over new legislation in Hungary that would ban showing content about LGBT issues to youth.

Hungary’s parliament passed the bill last week, but it must be endorsed by the president to take effect. It prohibits sharing content on homosexuality or sex reassignment to people under 18 in school sex education programmes, films or advertisements.

The government says it will protect children, but critics say it links homosexuality with paedophilia.

The issue has turned a harsh spotlight on the EU’s inability to rein in the “illiberal democracies” among its ranks like Hungary and Poland, whose deeply conservative, nationalist and anti-migrant governments have flouted the bloc’s democratic standards and values for years.

It's also taken centre stage at Europe's premier international soccer tournament, where the governing body UEFA rejected host city Munich’s plans to display rainbow colours during a match between Germany and Hungary at the European Championship on Wednesday evening.

“Hate, intolerance and discrimination have no place in our Union. That’s why, today and every day, we stand for diversity and LGBTI equality so that our future generations can grow up in a Europe of equality and respect,” several EU leaders wrote in coordinated messages on Twitter.

Many attached a letter to their tweets addressed to European Council President Charles Michel – who will host the summit in Brussels later Thursday – as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will also take part in the meeting.

“In light of threats against fundamental rights and in particular the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, we express our attachment to our common fundamental values, enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union,” the letter said.

“Respect and tolerance are at the core of the European project. We are committed to carry on with this effort, making sure that future European generations grow up in an atmosphere of equality and respect,” said the letter, signed by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, among others.

Hungary was not mentioned by name, but many of the same leaders signed a letter earlier this week backed by 17 countries calling on von der Leyen’s commission, which watches over the respect of EU laws, to take the government in Budapest to the European Court of Justice over the bill.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government rejected the growing chorus of criticism on Wednesday.

“The recently adopted Hungarian bill protects the rights of children, guarantees the rights of parents and does not apply to the sexual orientation rights of those over 18 years of age, so it does not contain any discriminatory elements,” a statement said.

Still, the commission has already taken the first step in legal action. On Wednesday, Brussels sent a letter to Hungary’s justice minister seeking “clarifications, explanation and information” about elements of the bill.

It said that some provisions appear to “directly violate the prohibition of discrimination based on sex and on sexual orientation”, and would put homosexuality, sex change and divergence from self-identity “on the same footing as pornography”.

Asked Thursday about the Hungarian bill, Guterres said “all forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable and obviously any form of discrimination in relation to LGBTQ plus people are totally unacceptable”.

“This is an area where we share the very firm position, and the need, to be absolutely opposed to any attempt to reinstate discrimination in our societies,” he told reporters.

The leaders of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden signed the open letter.

Luxembourg Chancellor's Xavier Bettel said that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who sometime aligns with Orban on social issues, also lent his support. Kurz "also joined us this morning with his signature", Bettel said on Twitter.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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