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Polish LGBT dispute shows how a culture clash between West and East could sink the EU

Polish LGBT dispute shows how a culture clash between West and East could sink the EU
When I was an MEP, I thought that the euro would eventually bring down the European Union. But now I am convinced that it’s the West’s imposition of liberal values on reluctant Eastern Europe states that could spell the end.

Yesterday, Brussels finally lost patience with one of its more troublesome members, Poland. In doing so, the European Commission decided to hit the country where it hurts most – in the pocket. 

The Commission issued a series of threats to fine Poland for a number of alleged misdemeanours. Two of the three threats, which could include daily fines, relate to judicial disputes. The other – regarding LGBT issues – will, I believe, ultimately prove far more serious. 

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Let’s tackle the judicial disputes first. The first concerns a judicial chamber set up by the ruling PiS party to fine or sack judges that the EU claims it doesn’t like. PiS argues that the chamber is necessary to weed out Soviet-era judges. Although the Poles promised to abolish the chamber last month, they have done nothing of the sort, prompting Brussels to act.

The second is about whether Polish law or EU law takes precedence in Poland. This dispute has been rumbling on for months now, and the country’s constitutional tribunal will rule on the issue on 22 September. Nevertheless, Poland’s PM, Mateusz Morawiecki, has warned Brussels that “Poland doesn’t have any master. This is not a vassal relationship.”

Now, these two disputes are very important, because they lead to the question: who governs Poland? Is it Warsaw, or is it Brussels?  

However, I think it is the third of the threats that could have even more lasting consequences for both the EU and Poland. The European Commission has written to five Polish regions warning them that EU funding could be withdrawn if they don’t abandon their declarations of being ‘LGBT-free zones’. The threat includes the withholding of Covid recovery funds and the REACT-EU fund, from which Poland takes around 1.5 billion euros.

The reason I believe that this potential sanction poses a huge danger is because it involves people’s values and not constructs. It is not about a judicial chamber or political rulings, important though they are. It is about what people believe and, most of all, their faith.  

A lot of Poland’s aversion to LGBT comes from the fact that it is a deeply religious country, and predominantly Catholic. Nearly half of the population declare a faith and practise it regularly. Moreover, only nine percent declare having no faith at all. You would be hard pushed to find anywhere else in Europe that could come close to these numbers, and certainly not in the increasingly atheist West.   

The consequence is that religion plays a far more important role in politics in Poland than it does in the West, and there is no better example of this than when it comes to LGBT issues. For many Poles, homosexuality is an affront to traditional values and a sin, because that is what it says in the Bible. 

Last year, around 100 towns and regions across Poland, nearly a third of the country, passed resolutions declaring themselves ‘LGBT-free zones’. Now before we go any further, I am not saying that I agree with these resolutions, because I don’t. I dislike the curtailment of freedoms, especially when it is based on race or sexuality, which is something you are born with.  

But I am not convinced that we should be trying to force our liberal ideals on countries that simply have a different point of view, particularly when it is based on faith. I say this because it never works; just ask the Americans. And simply calling them bigots and cavemen, as MEPs regularly do, does nothing but antagonise large swathes of the population. 

I really do believe that there is a cultural crisis coming down the road for the EU, especially as Hungary seems to be on the same path as Poland. Indeed, I think that the EU is in more danger now than at any point since the financial crisis. 

Back then, many of us eurosceptic MEPs believed that the euro would precipitate the downfall of the EU. We believed that the EU had overexpanded and had allowed countries into the single currency that had no right to be there. We looked at Spain, Portugal, and in particular Italy, whose economy back then was a basket case, and remains so today.  

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We were convinced that Greece in particular had to leave the euro, which in turn would lead to other Mediterranean countries following suit. This did not happen, because we had underestimated Brussels’ determination to keep Greece in the currency, even if that meant abolishing democracy and allowing the country to fall further into the economic doldrums. 

But in the end, these were economic issues. They will pale into insignificance when people feel that the EU is encroaching on their faith. I always believed the great divide in Europe was an economic one between North and South. I can now see that the real divide is cultural, and it is between the East and the West. 

I predict that the culture war is coming, and the EU’s survival will depend on how it deals with it. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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