The European Commission issued an ultimatum to Poland after several voivodships declared themselves “LGBT-free zones”. Brussels asked to explain what this is out of a concern about human rights violations and the stigmatization of LGBT people. The European Union is waiting for a response by September 15, and so far, the representatives of these voivodships have received an e-mail notification about the termination of financial assistance, which may be canceled altogether.
We talk about what is known about "LGBT-free zones", how they arose and how much financial aid Poland may lose.
What are "LGBT-free zones"?
In Poland, for several years, cities, gminas, counties, and voivodships joined the charters for the protection of the traditional family and for opposing the “LGBT ideology”. The press called these regions “LGBT-free zones”.
The campaign began after the mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, issued a declaration in February 2019 in defense of sexual minorities and stated the need to add relevant issues to the school's sex education program. At the time, conservative groups saw this as an aggressive imposition of “LGBT ideology”. This was followed by declarations of intolerance towards the spread of such views.
About 100 municipalities (including five voivodships), covering about a third of the country, have introduced such laws. Among them - the cities in the east of Lublin, Bialystok, Rzeszow (the full list can be seen on the Atlas Nienawiści map).
In these areas, local authorities have passed resolutions banning the display of symbols of sexual minorities or belonging to them. The purpose of the zones is to ban equality marches and other LGBT events, “to ban the promotion of homosexuality and other sexual identities of minorities, especially in schools.”
Polish opposition leaders, LGBT activists and European human rights activists have argued that these declarations are a form of discrimination: they prevent local authorities from upholding LGBT rights while encouraging hate speech and violence against LGBT people.
The latest high-profile scandal was the vote by the Lesser Poland Voivodeship Regional Council to remain an “LGBT-free zone”. The voivodship authorities have received a warning letter stating that the region could lose more than €2.5 billion in EU funds.
Europe asks what “LGBT ideology” means
Poland has until September 15 to respond to a letter from Brussels demanding an explanation of the meaning of LGBT resolutions. The European Commission has been trying in vain to get an answer for more than six months, Gazeta Wyborcza reports.
Brussels asks how Polish local governments are fighting discrimination and what is behind the statements contained in the resolutions against LGBT people.
“Can you explain what “freedom from LGBT ideology” really means? Does “LGBT ideology” mean anything other than the right of LGBT people not to be discriminated against under EU law, and if so, what's the difference?” the letter reads.
The Polish government has already been convicted of inaction against cities and districts that have joined “LGBT-free zones”.
“Europe will never allow certain parts of our society to be stigmatized for who they love, for their age, for their ethnic origin, for their political views or for their religious beliefs," said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
So far, the European Commission has accused Poland of failing to meet a member state's obligations under the EU Treaty. A country that does not adhere to EU principles may lose funding from the union's budget.
After September 15, the commission may decide to send its conclusion to Poland and then take the case to the EU court for discrimination against sexual minorities.
Punishment with money
Since July 2020, the European Union has already denied funding to municipalities that have adopted resolutions. In addition, several European sister cities have frozen their partnerships with Polish municipalities, which have joined the “LGBT-free zone”.
The European Union has suspended the payment of additional funding under part of the fund to recover from the effects of Covid-19 pending responses from five regions (Podkarpackie, Lodz, Lesser, Swietokrzyskie and Lublin) to the Commission's concerns. The funds are part of REACT-EU, a package of additional cohesion funds, within which Poland has received a total of more than €1.5 billion.
Krakow Mayor Jacek Majchrowski has sent a letter to the European Commission asking it not to stop funding due to an anti-LGBT resolution. Majchrowski called for an individual assessment of the city's activities for LGBT people, regardless of the decisions of the authorities of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship. The politician states that Krakow is an open and tolerant city and should not be punished for the fact that the members of the Voivodeship Council adopted a contradictory declaration.
A representative of the provincial marshal from Lublin, Remigiusz Malecki, said that the office had received an e-mail from the European Commission announcing the termination of the REACT-EU program. Within the first tranche of funds, the Lublin region was to receive approximately €26 million. The opposition claims that the region could lose another 10 billion zlotys from other funds because of its position.
In total, Gazeta Wyborcza estimates that Poland could lose up to 47.5 billion zlotys in EU aid if local authorities do not abandon the resolution against LGBT people.