“I will go to an ‘LGBT-free zone’ in Poland,’” said Clément Beaune, French Secretary of State for European Affairs, in a December interview in which he also publicly came out as a gay man. But when he asked to visit Kraśnik, authorities denied him access. Kraśnik is one of almost 100 regions and municipalities in Poland that have endorsed discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people by declaring themselves “LGBT-ideology free” or adopting “charters” that promote an exclusively heterosexual model of families.
The Polish government’s shameful decision to prevent a gay official from visiting a part of the country, one suspects at least in part because of his sexual orientation, is a stinging reminder of how much the populist Law and Justice (PiS) ruling party’s policies have impacted the rights of LGBT people. LGBT activists have increasingly faced arrests and spurious charges for nonviolent acts, like placing the rainbow flag on public monuments.
The government’s crusade against so-called “gender ideology” also targets women’s rights. On International Women’s Day, massive protests took place against ruling by the politically-compromised Constitutional Tribunal that virtually eliminated legal abortion in the country. Women’s rights activists face increasing arrest, harassment, and physical threats.
Attacks on women’s and LGBT rights come amidst a broader erosion of judicial independence and pressure on media and civil society critical of PiS.
Beaune’s trip is also a reminder that France, which will hold the EU’s rotating presidency from January to June 2022, could do much more to confront democratic backslides in Poland and other EU countries. In addition to Viktor Orbán’s crackdown in Hungary, Slovenia recently came under the spotlight for Prime Minister Janez Janša’s efforts to curb media freedom and intimidate journalists.
France’s EU presidency should oversee responses to these attacks against rule of law in the EU. This should start with pushing the European Council to revive scrutiny on Poland and Hungary under Article 7 – the mechanism dealing with EU governments that put the Union’s founding values at risk – and pressing the Commission to condition access to EU funds to respect for the rule of law.
France should ensure its leadership centers on serious efforts to defend human rights everywhere in the EU.