In her first state of union speech, Ursula von der Leyen has heavily criticised Poland’s ruling party which has been consistently anti-LGBTQ+ in its approach to policy and human rights.

The head of the European commission gave a 77-minute speech at the European parliament in Brussels when she singled out the Polish Law and Justice party for their bigoted and discriminative views.

Von der Leyen criticised EU member states who have increasingly watered down protections and policy on human rights to satisfy their own political agenda.

Poland’s Law and Justice party have inspired and supported some Polish towns to declares themselves as “LGBT-ideology free zones,” putting vulnerable LGBTQ+ citizens at risk of discrimination, prejudice and violence.

“Being yourself is not your ideology,” Von der Leyen stated in her speech. “It’s your identity. So I want to be crystal clear – LGBTQI-free zones are humanity free zones. And they have no place in our union.”

As she came out in full support of marginalised LGBTQ+ communities across Europe facing discrimination, MEPs in the European parliament burst into applause for her statements.

Von der Leyen also called for an end to national vetoes and said that the EU needs to be quicker and stronger at calling out abuses of human rights in Europe and across the globe.

“But what holds us back?” she added. “Why are even simple statements on EU values delayed, watered down or held hostage for other motives? When member states say Europe is too slow, I say to them be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting – at least on human rights and sanctions implementation.”

This was Von der Leyen’s first ‘state of the union’ speech since taking the post for a five-year term last December.

She also spoke about the EU’s repsonse to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and that EU member states need to do more to combat racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests across the world this summer.