Orban isolated as EU leaders criticise Hungary's 'homophobic' legislation

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EU leaders meeting at a summit in Brussels have harshly criticised Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban over a new law in his country banning LGBTQ content in schools, legislation which the European political chiefs view as homophobic and contrary to the bloc's values.

Orban was virtually isolated as most of his 26 counterparts rounded on him in what one EU official described as an "emotional debate".

The most strident was Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte -- who, on his way into the summit, had told journalists "Hungary has no place in the EU anymore".

Others joined in the criticism, delivering a scathing broadside to Hungary's nationalist leader, who has frequently clashed with Brussels and with EU counterparts over his socially conservative policies and undercutting of democratic norms.

"Being homosexual is not a choice. Being homophobic is a choice. We cannot accept legislation that legitimises such behaviour," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Orban.

"You've crossed a red line," said Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel -- the only openly gay leader at the summit.

The extraordinary attacks overshadowed the first opening of the two-day summit, where the agenda included fraught ties with Russia and Turkey, and the bloc's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

A question of fundamental values

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said early Friday, after the lengthy first day came to an end, that "it was certainly a controversial, but very, very frank discussion".

She said "we all made it very clear here what fundamental values we are pursuing" and the European Commission "will now continue to deal with the Hungarian law".

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said before the summit that her executive would challenge the basis of the law.

De Croo told journalists after leaving the summit that the haranguing of Orban was unprecedented at such gatherings.

"This was not a diplomatic discussion, this was quite confrontational," he said.

He added that only Poland and Slovenia had offered Hungary any support.

Orban characteristically defiant

As he headed into the summit on Thursday, the Hungarian prime minister insisted to journalists that his fellow leaders had misunderstood the legislation.

"This is not against homosexuality... It's about the right of the kids and the parents," he said.

"It's about how a child learns about sexuality... and decisions about that are exclusively the business of parents," he said.

Hungary's law, the "Anti-Paedophilia Act", was originally aimed at toughening punishments for child abuse.

But its final draft contains amendments that critics say confuse paedophilia and homosexuality.

The law bans the "promotion of homosexuality" to under-18s, and says that only government-approved instructors are allowed to teach sex education in schools.

Firms cannot run ads showing support for the LGBTQ community if they are seen as targeting minors, according to the law.

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