Poland criticized in EU Parliament over courts, LGBT rights

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Poland’s President Andrzej Duda speaks to parliament members after he had been sworn in for a second term, at the parliament, in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday, August 6, 2020. Many of Poland’s former leaders abstained from the ceremony to show disapproval for his first term policies.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s conservative government came under criticism Monday in the European Parliament, where some lawmakers called for it to lose European Union funding over its rule of law record and its stigmatization of LGBT people.

The parliament was discussing a new report on fundamental rights in Poland prepared by Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, a Spanish lawmaker who heads the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

Aguilar told lawmakers that Poland appears to be moving away from European fundamental values and called the situation “extremely concerning.” The report will face a vote on Thursday.

Poland has repeatedly been scrutinized in the EU parliament since the conservative nationalist Law and Justice took power in 2015. Of greatest concern has been legislation that has given the ruling party vast new powers over Poland’s court system.

In recent months, LGBT rights have been a new focus as Polish politicians have been depicting the movement for greater rights for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people as a dangerous “ideology” threatening the largely Catholic nation’s traditional identity.

President Andrzej Duda won re-election in July after a campaign in which he called the LGBT movement an “ideology” more dangerous than communism.

Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, called it “a threat to the very foundations of our civilization.”

Many Polish municipalities have also declared themselves to be “LGBT free,” a largely symbolic move but one that has left LGBT people feeling unwanted. LGBT rights groups say they have also recorded a rising number of hate crimes against sexual minorities.

“We see Poland crossing red line after red line,” said Sophia in ’t Veld, a Dutch parliament member. She called on EU leaders to take much firmer steps to punish the governments of both Poland and Hungary, which under Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also been accused by the EU of eroding democratic norms.

“I don’t want to hear the word dialogue anymore. We’ve been in dialogue with Mr. Orban for 10 years. And look at where we are now. It is impunity. Dialogue equals impunity,” she said.

Vera Jourova, vice president of the European Commission, which ensures that EU law is applied in the bloc’s 27 nations, said the Commission would soon decide on its next steps towards Poland over a controversial law disciplining judges. She also said it is analyzing the topic of the “LGBT-free zones” — which have caused six Polish towns to lose some EU funding.

She said she strongly supports linking funding to rule of law.

“I sometimes say in a rather cynical way that who doesn’t understand our values, he usually understands the money. Let’s use this instrument,” she said. “The taxpayers of many member states — they are fed up (with) funding the projects in countries where fundamental rights are violated.”

Patryk Jaki, a Polish lawmaker from the Law and Justice party, accused the European lawmakers of treating any policies that are not left-wing as an attack on the rule of law.

He got support from Maximilian Krah, from Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party, who said the criticism voiced Monday was the “usual attacks on conservative politics.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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