The European Commission has rejected funding under a twinning programme to six Polish cities that have declared themselves “free of LGBTI ideology.” 

The decision to reject the cities’ applications on the basis that they do not comply with the program’s objective of “equal access and non-discrimination” was also confirmed on Twitter, by Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli, who wrote that “EU values and fundamental rights must be respected by member states and state authorities.”

EU’s move was slammed by the country’s Justice Minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, who condemned the decision, labelling it as a discrimination towards Polish citizens and local governments. 

“The Union must respect the equality of all its citizens, who have the right to freely shape their opinions and beliefs,” Ziobro wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday, also accusing the Commission of withholding the EU funds with the purpose of achieving its “ideological” objectives.

“Under the pretext of the rule of law, the Commission wanted to collect billions from Poland’s funds that we deserve if we do not pursue an agenda important for ideologically involved commissioners trying to impose their views on others!

Earlier in July, the EU Executive had warned it could slash aid to areas which are discriminating against LGBT people, following the announcement by the local council of the village of Konskowola, in eastern Poland, that it is “free of LGBT ideology.”

Ahead of parliamentary elections in autumn, Polish local governments had issued resolutions creating zones forbidding tolerance of sexual minorities. Although discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in Poland and the resolutions are not legally binding, they have called on local authorities to “abstain from any action encouraging tolerance of LGBTI persons and not to provide any financial assistance to NGOs working for equal rights”.

The move has been heavily criticised by EU lawmakers, who called on the Commission to monitor the way EU funding is used, accusing Polish municipalities of withholding financial assistance for human rights NGOs.

Since it came to power in 2015, the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) had pledged to defend traditional family values. The country’s incumbent President, Andrej Duda has faced acute criticism over its anti-LGBT rhetoric, as during his pre-election campaign he had pledged to ensure gay couples would not be able to adopt children and to prevent education about LGBT rights in public schools.

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