BRUSSELS: The European Commission on Thursday launched legal action against the conservative governments of EU members Hungary and Poland in response to measures seen as discriminating against LGBTQ citizens.
As the "guardian of the treaties" binding the European Union together, the commission can launch infringement procedures against member states.
Such a procedure involves several steps and could drag out over years but could ultimately result in going to the European Court of Justice, which could impose financial penalties.
Both Hungary and Poland are ruled by right-wing, socially conservative governments whose policies have raised rule-of-law questions.
Hungary's so-called "anti-paedophilia" law, which among other things bans the "promotion" of homosexuality and gender reassignment to under-18s, came into force last week despite many warnings from Brussels and pushback by EU leaders.
EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said last week that the EU executive would use "all powers available" to force Hungary to repeal or modify the law.
"Europe will never allow parts of our society to be stigmatised: be it because of whom they love, because of their age, their ethnicity, their political opinions, or their religious beliefs," she told MEPs.
Hungary's legislation was billed as a way to protect children, but opponents argue that it conflates paedophilia with homosexuality and stigmatises the LGBTQ community.
In Poland, around 100 towns and villages have adopted the "anti-LGBT" resolution, which some describe as a "charter for family rights". They cover about a third of Polish territory and are mainly located in the country's east and southeast, traditionally very Catholic.
"The commission considers that Polish authorities failed to fully and appropriately respond to its inquiry regarding the nature and impact of the so-called 'LGBT-ideology free zones'," a statement said.
Poland is already in Brussels' bad books for judicial reforms, which have several times been ruled to go against EU standards on judges' independence.
The two member states now have two months to respond to the arguments put forward by the commission before the procedure enters the next stage.