Tuesday

4th Oct 2022

Hungary raids Norway-backed NGOs

  • Orban - the PM's actions have led to many past clashes with Brussels (Photo: kormany.hu)

Hungarian police on Monday (9 September) raided the offices of Norway-backed NGOs Okotars and Demnet, escalating the government’s campaign against civil society.

Norway reacted by saying the moves were "unacceptable" and represent "harassment" of civil organisations.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

A large number of police and investigators raided the offices, taking laptops, copying documents, and forbidding staff from making phone calls, local media reported.

Police said the action was taken because the NGOs were suspected of embezzlement and unauthorised financial activities. It follows similar raids on NGOs in June.

On Monday evening, several hundred people demonstrated in Budapest in protest.

The Hungarian government has accused the Oslo-backed NGOs of secretly channelling money to political opposition groups and in June ordered an investigation. Fifty-eight NGOs were called into question and ordered to hand over documents related to the projects.

The NGOs raided on Monday were in charge of distributing money from Norway Grants, an agreement between the EU and Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein on funding projects in less developed EU countries which, among other things, strengthen civil rights groups and transparency.

The NGOs deny having any links to political parties. Funded groups include Transparency International, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and the investigative journalism portal, atlatszo.hu.

"Yesterday's police action is unacceptable and shows that the Hungarian government aims to discredit the non-governmental organisations critical of the government. It also indicates that the Hungarian government moved away from the common European values based on democracy and respect for human rights," Vidar Helgesen, Norwegian minister for EU affairs, said in a statement.

Helgesen recently called on the EU to act. "I am puzzled and disappointed that a response from the EU institutions has been largely lacking,” he wrote in an article last month in the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, Janos Lazar, the PM’s chief of staff, said on Tuesday that Hungary is considering asking Brussels to settle the dispute.

"Probably we need to turn to the European Commission and ask Brussels to solve it", Lazar was quoted by MTI news agency as saying. He did not specify how the EU could help.

The Hungarian government denies that a crackdown on NGOs is taking place. But prime minister Viktor Orban has made no secret of his mistrust of the Norway set-up.

During the summer he said that civil society organisations receiving funding from abroad are agents of foreign powers.

“We’re not dealing with civil society members but paid political activists who are trying to help foreign interests here,” Orban said in July.

The pugilistic leader, who has been criticised by the EU for curbing press freedom and the independence of the judiciary, said in the same speech that Hungry is building an "illiberal state" and cited Russia and Turkey as models of statehood.

“I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” he said.

In the current financing period, Hungary is eligible for €153 million, but Norway has suspended almost €130 million of that because of the dispute, only allowing civil society organisations to benefit from the remaining €13.5 million.

The EU, for its part, says it cannot interfere or have a position because the funds backing the NGOs are Norwegian.

"I confirm that we are aware of the developments and we are following them closely, but, as the EU funds are not involved, we are not a party in the ongoing Hungarian investigation over the use of the funds and we can’t take any specific position regarding this specific case," European Commission spokesperson Cezary Lewanowicz said in an email on Thursday.

Article was updated at 10:08 on 11.09.2014 to reflect the EU's official response

US diplomat lashes out at Hungary's Orban

Victoria Nuland, the US' top diplomat on Europe, has indirectly criticised Hungarian leader Viktor Orban for the “cancer” of “democratic backsliding”.

Culture MEPs rebel against Juncker

A handful of Liberal, Green, leftist and anti-establishment MEPs dealing with culture have called for a boycott against the Juncker commission because of his Hungarian nominee.

Feature

Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy

EUobserver spoke with several business figures and all confirmed they voted for Georgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy because it promised stability, less bureaucracy and tax cuts. Matteo Salvini's anti-EU rhetoric scared them, while they trust Meloni has "more common sense".

Europe's far-right celebrates Meloni victory

In Warsaw and Budapest, the prime ministers were quick to congratulate the new Italian leader, who — they hope — will back them in their battles with the EU over civil rights, rule of law and democratic backsliding.

Podcast

How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation
  2. Greece to unveil proposal for capping EU gas prices
  3. Four dead, 29 missing, after dinghy found off Canary Islands
  4. Orbán: German €200bn shield is start of 'cannibalism in EU'
  5. Lithuania expels top Russian diplomat
  6. Poland insists on German WW2 reparations
  7. Russia halts gas supplies to Italy
  8. Bulgaria risks hung parliament after inconclusive vote

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Last-minute legal changes to Bosnian election law stir controversy
  2. EU wants probe into alleged Nagorno-Karabakh war crimes
  3. EU officials were warned of risk over issuing financial warning
  4. EU debates national energy plans amid calls for more coordination
  5. What Modi and Putin’s ‘unbreakable friendship’ means for the EU
  6. EU leaders have until Friday for refugee resettlement pledges
  7. Cities and regions stand with citizens and SMEs ahead of difficult winter
  8. Editor's weekly digest: A week of leaks

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us