First press freedom, now gay rights

Thursday, 17. February 2011     0 comment(s)
Kaisa Korhonen
Researcher - The European Union research programme
Public indictment is a powerful tool for change also inside the EU borders. Media attention given to Hungary’s domestic situation due to its ‘EU presidency’ is a good example.

Hungary holds currently the rotating presidency over the Council of the European Union. Due to this role, it has Europe’s eyes on it. Whatever member state acts as the ‘EU presidency’ gets its six months on the spotlight.

This attention is usually perceived as a good thing especially for small member states and their efforts to make their country internationally noticed. It was one of the main arguments for keeping the rotating presidency in the EU’s political system during the latest treaty revision round instead of converting completely to a permanent presidency.

Hungarian government has instead been struggling with the other side of the coin. Firstly, it received European wide criticism about their new media law, which was argued to breach the freedom of expression (as well as the EU’s directive on audiovisual and media services). This month the decision by Budapest police to not allow the Pride parade to gather in front of the Hungarian Parliament was interpreted to be against the freedom of assembly. Behind these critical voices lies of course a general fear about the results of national conservative takeoff in domestic politics.    

Public pressure is among the EU’s most powerful enlargement policy tools, but less useful after accessions. In the framework of enlargement policy, blaming and shaming drives the process of harmonization of national law with the EU acquis. Especially human rights infringements get a wide media coverage during the accession process. Blaming and shaming a member state is politically more sensitive. Usually the European Commission expresses their concern. If the EU law is broken, legal action is possible, but often concerns the more technical and less political details of national legislative acts.

Rotating EU presidency makes it all easier because media pressure on the member state holding the presidency increases. Civil society does smartly if it brings forth problems under surface. This is exactly what gay rights activists in Hungary did when they approached EU media. No story has a single angle but during these six months there is a greater possibility that other than the official point of view gets heard.

From the perspective of EU citizens’ fundamental rights, this is healthy development. In practice, each EU member state has still difficulties in respecting all rights in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – especially those placed under title ‘equality’.  

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