Hungary, Poland Thwart EU’s Push for Gender Equality

Hungary and Poland are blocking references to gender in a European Union statement about social issues that the bloc’s leaders are due to adopt this week, underscoring a rift over their attitudes toward the LGBTQ community.

The so-called Porto declaration was meant to “promote gender equality and fairness for every individual in our society,” but the term gender has been dropped from the latest draft following opposition from the two countries, according to people familiar with the matter and documents seen by Bloomberg.

At a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday, the Hungarian envoy said the term crossed a line because using it would mean going beyond men and women, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has banned the legal change of a person’s gender, and last year effectively prohibited adoption for same-sex partners while enshrining in the constitution the idea that marriage is possible only between a man and a woman.

Orban, who has promoted what he calls conservative Christian values, stepped up pressure on the LGBTQ community last year in moves widely seen as aimed at firing up his voters ahead of elections in 2022, with polls showing the four-term premier trailing a united opposition.

Ahead of the Porto meeting, Orban told reporters he didn’t want to confuse an ideological dispute with a strong commitment to equality between men and women. He said he’s been pushing the EU to define gender equality as equality between men and women. But “they don’t like the Christian approach,” he said.

The Hungarian position was backed by Poland, which also said it had a problem with the inclusion of gender equality in the Porto declaration, the same diplomatic memo says.

The Poland’s ruling party and President Andrzej Duda have a track record of inflaming bigotry for political gain, referring to gender as a “foreign ideology” that’s “worse than communism.” Last year, the cabinet considered pulling out of the Istanbul Convention against family violence in part because it contained the word gender.

“We will present in Porto our social model, which is based on the family and leads to greater social justice,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday before leaving for Porto. “We have great accomplishments in this field,” including low unemployment, he said.

Poland and Hungary refuse to acknowledge a difference between biological sex and social gender, arguing it isn’t in line with their legal and constitutional systems, according to a diplomat close to the countries, who asked not to be identified. The countries claim the European Commission and some member states are putting pressure on them to accept what they refer to as “gender ideology,” the diplomat said.

At Wednesday’s meeting of EU diplomats, Poland and Hungary also jointly submitted a request to scrub references to the term gender from other upcoming EU documents, including on security and defense, according to another diplomatic memo seen by Bloomberg.

Still, the countries didn’t entirely succeed in eliminating gender from the EU vocabulary. While the term was removed in that one passage in the declaration, it survived elsewhere, and EU leaders are set to pledge to “close gender gaps in employment, pay and pensions,” according to the same draft.

The final declaration is set to be adopted later this week.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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