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EU ‘gender’ clash at summit in Portugal

Hungary and Poland failed on Friday to exclude the term “gender” from the final conclusions of an EU summit devoted to promoting equality and fighting poverty in Europe.

The fight is a recurring one in EU circles, with the culturally conservative governments in Warsaw and Budapest seeing the term as ideologically loaded, creating a space to promote rights for LGBT people.

“They don’t like the Christian approach (…) That’s part of the European politics,” said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as he arrived for a two-day EU summit in Porto, Portugal.

“We always propose, instead of saying gender equality, to use equality between men and women. But it’s always rejected,” he said.

In the latest version of the draft conclusions, set to be adopted on Saturday, the bloc’s 27 leaders will agree to “promote equality and fairness for every individual in our society”.

But the EU will also work to close “gender gaps” in employment, pay and pensions, the draft said, leaving in the opposed word.

“On the one hand, Hungary and Poland did not want the term ‘gender’, while on the other hand, for Finland, Austria and Spain, the term ‘gender equality’ was non-negotiable,” a diplomat said.

“We found a compromise solution.”

An official from Poland’s populist government said the opposition to the term was a matter of “legal clarity”.

“The Treaty of the European Union very clearly refers not to gender equality but to equality between women and men,” the official said.

The Polish government has compared the struggle for LGBT equality to communism in terms of the alleged threat it poses to national values.

Poland also wants to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, a landmark international treaty against violence against women saying it undermines conservative family values.

Despite strong protests in Poland and abroad, conservatives and far-right MPs supported a bill in favour of withdrawal entitled “Yes to the family, no to gender”.

Orban’s government has also sharpened its anti-LGBT rhetoric in recent months.

In May 2020, a ban on legally changing one’s gender came into force, with rights groups warning this would expose transgender Hungarians to discrimination.

In 2018 a government decree effectively banned universities from teaching courses on gender studies.