Tuesday

7th Jul 2020

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

Support quality EU news

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.

Agenda

EU's virtual summit with China This WEEK

This week, the European Union and China are holding their first joint summit since April 2019. It comes amid the pandemic, which first surfaced in China's Wuhan, protests in Hong Kong and a belligerent US president.

Coronavirus

EU leaders to reconvene in July on budget and recovery

Most EU leaders want an agreement before the summer break, but the Dutch PM, leading the 'Frugal Four', warned there might not even be a deal then. But the ECB's Christian Lagarde has warned of a "dramatic" economic fall.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video
  2. Parliament vaping booths 'too confidential' to discuss
  3. Belarus: Inside Lukashenko’s crackdown on independent voices
  4. The rationale behind US troop withdrawals from Germany
  5. Podcast: Nordic region speaks out on big global challenges
  6. Croatia re-elects PM amid corona downturn
  7. Budget talks shift gear This WEEK
  8. Cardinals speak out: EU needs corporate due diligence

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us