Germany-Hungary Euro 2020 football game symbolizes the future of Europe
When Germany and Hungary face off in the Euro 2020 football tournament on Wednesday, the game will be seen as much more than a game. This will serve as one more front in the war for the future of a more tolerant Europe.
On one side is Hungary, led by right-wing autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose government last week passed a law banning gay people from appearing on TV shows or in educational materials for citizens of 18 and under. On the other, Germany, the ruling nation of the European Union, which alongside other countries has condemned the law as discriminatory and emblematic of Hungary’s democratic backsliding under Orbán.
The week-long political stalemate has extended to the continent’s flagship football tournament, the quadrennial UEFA European Football Championship, which takes place this year after being postponed to 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. coronavirus. While the matches mainly show which national team is stronger, they sometimes serve as a platform for airing political grievances – and the timing of the Germany-Hungary game provided such a scene.
The city of Munich, which will host the game, has asked European football’s governing body (UEFA) for permission to light the stadium in rainbow colors as a clear rebuke to Hungarian law anti-LGBTQ. But UEFA, theoretically apolitical, declined this request on Tuesday.
“Given the political context of this specific request – a message aimed at a decision taken by the Hungarian national parliament – UEFA must decline this request,” the body said in a statement. And then on Wednesday, in response to the backlash of his decision, UEFA tweeted that “the rainbow is not a political symbol, but a sign of our firm commitment to a more diverse and inclusive society”.
This did not prevent the Germans from expressing their dissatisfaction with the decision. The colors of the rainbow will illuminate Munich Town Hall and Olympic Tower during the match, several stadiums across the country will light up in these colors, and around 11,000 German supporters will raise pride flags inside the Allianz Arena. Germany’s captain, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, will also continue to wear his rainbow-coloured captain’s armband.
The Hungarians – namely Orbán and his supporters – have another feeling. The Prime Minister canceled his initial plans to attend the game and lambasted Munich officials for their request. “Whether the football stadium in Munich or another European stadium is lit in the colors of the rainbow is not a decision of the state,” he told the news agency on Wednesday. German dpa. “In communist Hungary, homosexuals were persecuted. Today, the state not only guarantees the rights of homosexuals, but actively protects them.
It is therefore clear that the law has sparked a disagreement that extends far beyond the football field. This feeds into the central and long-standing argument about what the European Union stands for.
Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ+ law is ‘a dangerous moment’ for the EU
Last March, the European Union Parliament declared the bloc an “LGBTIQ freedom zone,” meaning that the 27 countries should serve as a safe space for one and all in this community.
On the surface, the EU legislature made the statement in response to a Polish law declaring 100 “LGBT-free zones” and the worsening situation for LGBTQ+ people in Hungary. But Nicolas Delaleu, the Parliament’s press officer, told me that the measure concerned something broader. “It’s a more general reaction that [those laws] did not represent fundamental European values,” he told me. “They go against what the EU stands for.”
By passing the law last week, Orbán’s government therefore confronted the sense of EU inclusiveness it has cultivated more recently. This is why leaders in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Ireland and others have spoken out so forcefully against the new Hungarian rules.
“I consider this law to be wrong and incompatible with my understanding of politics,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday. “This is a very, very dangerous moment for Hungary, and for the EU as well,” said Thomas Byrne, Irish Minister for European Affairs.
Tensions are also high on Twitter, with Hungarian and German officials chastising each other for their positions. After Germany’s openly gay Europe minister Michael Roth said Hungarian law goes against EU values, Hungary’s justice minister Judit Varga replied that “it is not a European value to carry our sexual propaganda on our children”.
Now a punishment for Hungary could be in the works.
Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission and one of the bloc’s top leaders, said Wednesday that Orbán should expect action soon. “The Hungarian bill is a disgrace,” she told reporters in Brussels. “I have instructed my responsible commissioners to write to the Hungarian authorities to express our legal concerns before the bill comes into force.” However, the Hungarian president is expected to sign the bill and enact it shortly.
This is not the only time Hungary has tested the EU on its values. Orbán continues to thwart EU goals of accepting asylum seekers and refugees, even as the bloc wants to be a more welcoming destination for those in need. And in the face of an election next year, Orbán is likely to continue to bolster his ultraconservative bona fides by supporting other similar measures that are harmful to LGBTQ+ people, asylum seekers and others.
With his anti-LGBTQ+ initiative, the Prime Minister is therefore once again trying to pull the EU towards his right-wing vision of a less multicultural Europe. But Tuesday’s football game against Germany will be another reminder that he faces stiff opposition.