This week, the European Union faces a definitive test. Not just about the nature of your values, but about what you will do to defend them.
For all intents and purposes, an EU member state has just passed legislation similar to what was dubbed Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, sparking international protests when it was passed in 2013.
At the time, the European Parliament strongly condemned the legislation along with several EU member states, the Council of Europe, the UN and many other international actors.
Now it is Hungary that is adopting legislation that prohibits teachers from teaching students about topics such as gender realignment and homosexuality, and that television programs and advertisements viewed by minors under 18 do not include them in their broadcasts.
This legislation clearly violates a number of EU laws and violates international human rights standards, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights itself and EU treaties.
And so we have come to a point where the credibility of the EU in terms of equality and human rights, and the credibility of the EU as a union of values, are really at stake.
This is a question of internal credibility for the entire EU. How can anyone living within their borders really believe that their leaders tell them that the EU is a union of values when EU governments adopt such laws and nothing happens as a result?
But it is also a matter of external credibility. How can the EU or EU member states really have any influence abroad when it comes to human rights if they hold other countries to account and yet do not hold their own?
We know that the European Commission wants to be strong on LGBT rights. In the last year, President Ursula von der Leyen has spoken out on the issue, the commission has published an LGBTIQ equality strategy and there have been sanctions against Poland for its so-called ‘LGBT Free Zones’ and family statutes.
There is a clear intention to uphold EU human rights principles, including LGBT rights. But if there was ever a time to fully utilize all the instruments the commission has at its disposal, from infractions to financial penalties, it is now.
It must be clear to any EU member state that they cannot blatantly violate human rights with impunity, and that there will be financial and political consequences.
The commission also has an enormous responsibility to ensure that it does not give legitimacy to any voice, including the voice of an EU head of state, who seeks to divide communities and portray some of us as second-class citizens.
There is also a clear burden of responsibility and leadership for all other EU member states to act.
EU governments cannot hide behind the commission: member states must support the sanction of Hungary for human rights violations. The commission can only be as strong as the support it receives from member states. To act, you need to feel that you have widespread political support.
We have underestimated the extent to which the use of LGBT people to create an enemy is still politically profitable in Europe.
What we are seeing in Hungary now is the same thing we saw during the recent Polish presidential elections, the use of LGBT people and their rights to bridge the gap between political parties and rally supporters. This is ultimately what European leaders at this very moment must have the courage to shout and put a stop to.
Beyond the political games and legal arguments around competitions, the lives of real people are at stake. The use of LGBT people as political pawns is not an intellectual discussion in Brussels, it is a question of real consequences for the people.
Right now, the real test for the EU is whether it can act in a way that shows that it cares more about people than politics.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism