Belgium backs Commission in Hungarian ‘anti-gay’ law case before EU Court

Brussels (Belga) – Belgium is joining the European Commission’s proceedings before the EU Court of Justice against Hungary over its so-called ‘anti-gay law’. Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib announced this on Monday.

The controversial law, officially designed to protect minors, prohibits the representation or promotion of “different gender identity at birth, gender reassignment or homosexuality.” Quickly, the legislation became known as an “anti-gay law”. The Commission opened infringement proceedings against Hungary in 2021, claiming the law discriminates against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In particular, the Commission believes that the law curtails the fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ persons.

Because Hungary did not heed the criticism, the Commission went to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg last year, which must now examine whether the legislation is compatible with European law. Belgium was now siding with the Commission in that procedure, Minister Lahbib said.

“The fight against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression has always been a priority for our country,” explains Lahbib. She recalls that Belgium was at the forefront of a joint declaration by 18 EU member states in 2021, in which they expressed concern about the Hungarian law, which discriminates against LGBTQI+ persons “under the guise of child protection” and “violates the right to freedom of speech.”

The fact that Belgium is now intervening before the EU Court is a logical consequence of this statement, according to Lahbib. ” We note that the rights of the LGBTQI+ community are under increasing pressure in many places, including within Europe. (…) It is a worrying trend that needs to be reversed. That is why Belgium – after putting the case on the international agenda – will now also intervene before the European Court of Justice to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people. Our country has the firm ambition to continue playing a pioneering role both nationally and internationally.” (February 13)

Greece and Turkey get closer diplomatically after earthquakes

Athens (dpa) – After the devastating earthquakes in Turkey, there is a cautious rapprochement with neighboring Greece, despite many conflicts between the two countries. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias unexpectedly flew to the disaster area on 12 February and met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu. As shown on Greek state television, the two politicians hugged. Cavusoglu thanked Greece for the aid the country provided. The states would try to solve their problems in a dialogue, he added. 

“Greece’s help to the Turkish people does not end here,” Dendias assured. Athens would “do everything” – bilaterally and also within the EU framework – to help Turkey, Dendias added. He was the first EU foreign minister to visit the disaster zone, Greek state television reported. Several Greek rescue teams are working in the Antakya and Hatay region. For days, political observers and commentators in the Greek press had been expressing hope that the aid spontaneously given by Greece to Turkey could be a new start in relations between the NATO members.

After the earthquakes in Turkey and Greece in 1999, there had already been a relaxation in the relations between the two countries. At that time, the two countries had provided each other with rescue teams and humanitarian aid. This aid gradually developed into a rapprochement known as “earthquake diplomacy”, which initiated a phase of détente that lasted for more than ten years. Recently, there had been renewed tensions.

Athens and Ankara have been arguing over sovereign rights in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean for decades. In recent months, the Turkish president had repeatedly threatened to invade Greek islands. On the other hand, there have been gestures of détente between Armenia and Turkey of late. The former Soviet republic sent rescue teams to the neighboring country despite the strained relationship. Not long ago, Turkey had opened a border crossing with Armenia. (February 12)

MEP Tineke Strik: The European Union should provide more active support to BiH

Brussels (FENA) – The Dutch MEP Tineke Strik believes that the European Union should make a stronger commitment and provide more active support to Bosnia and Herzegovina and actors working for the rule of law and civil society. The bloc should also offer young people an economic perspective for the future.

Speaking at the meeting of the Association of Independent Intellectuals, Circle 99 (Bosnian: Krug 99) – a leading Bosnian think-tank established in Sarajevo in 1993 – on the topic “From Dayton to Brussels: BiH’s path towards the EU and the latest decisions of the OHR”, Strik said that the elections held in BiH last year should have been a day of celebration of democracy. They should have been an important step and an incentive for further reforms in BiH, but due to the decisions of High Representative Christian Schmidt, a step back towards ethnic divisions and nepotism had been taken.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) is an ad hoc international institution responsible for overseeing the implementation of civilian aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement ending the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. High Representative Christian Schmidt imposed changes to the Election Law of BiH on the day of the General Elections in October last year. Schmidt argued he had made the move to remove a blockade.

“My colleagues from the European Parliament and I criticized the decisions of the High Representative, because we need reforms that will be inclusive and we need to follow a path that will lead us to full democracy instead of returning to nationalist divisions,” said Strik.

She stated that, in light of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the level of awareness in the European Union regarding the importance of the Western Balkans getting closer to the EU had increased, that greater commitment was underway and that the EU had determined that one of its priorities was to speed up the accession of the Western Balkan countries to the EU.

“In order to achieve this, we need unity within the EU related to policies towards the Western Balkans, but we also need unity against foreign interference by states in internal affairs. We must also make sure that member states such as Croatia and Hungary don’t prioritize their national interests unilaterally in the process”,” Strik added.

According to her, the European Union should take a stricter stance regarding the conditions of further funding and the EU accession process. Strik added that 14 priorities of the European Commission were known and that the EU should be very clear that it was necessary to implement democratic reforms. (February 12)

EU to provide funds for Bulgarian-Turkish border security

Brussels (BTA) – The European Commission will fund two pilot projects for border guards, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after an extraordinary European Council meeting on February 9.

Von der Leyen said the EU would provide funds for vehicles, cameras and watchtowers along the border. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said that in recent months, efforts had been made to provide more solidarity and support to all countries on the frontline of the EU’s external borders.

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev said that the Commission intended to carry out a pilot project on the Bulgarian-Turkish border. He said that the debate on the fence and its financing was ongoing. In his words, the costs of building fences on the external European borders cannot be borne by the states independently.

In an interview, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who had been pushing for the EU to provide 2 billion euros for a better wall along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, said that with the European Council’s decision Bulgaria would get funds for staff, vehicles, technical equipment and security, and would thus be able to redirect national funds for the fence.

The European Parliament decided to discuss again the issue on Wednesday. According to the president of the European Council Charles Michel, EU heads of state and government will discuss the issue again at their next meeting in March. (9-10 February)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Tuesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.