Tuesday

1st Dec 2020

EU commission warns Hungary on 'foreign-funded' NGO law

  • Supporters of NGOs protesting in front of Hungary's EU representation in Brussels, back in 2017 when the 'foreign donors' law was introduced (Photo: Civil Society Europe)

The EU Commission has told Hungary to bring its domestic legislation on civil organisations into line with EU rules, after a Hungarian law on foreign-funded NGOs was struck down by the EU's top court in June.

Despite the ruling, civil organisations say Hungary continues to apply the legislation deemed as breaking EU rules.

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"The EU Commission on 29 October sent a second letter to urge them [Hungarian authorities] to inform the commission of the measures taken, to ensure that the law is not applied, and to share also the draft modifications to the existing law and provide a clear timeline when they would adopt the necessary legal modifications," commission spokesman Chirstian Wigand said on Tuesday (3 November).

Hungary now has one month to respond.

Hungarian authorities had informed the commission earlier that they are committed to implementing the judgement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the spokesman said.

Wigand added that the EU executive "expects Hungary to take concrete measures as a matter of urgency".

He said all ECJ judgements are immediately binding on member states, and need to be implemented.

If a member state does not comply with a ruling, the commission can issue a "reasoned opinion" on the specific points where an EU country failed to comply, and eventually can ask the ECJ to impose fines on the member state in breach.

The commission "will not hesitate to take further measures", Wigand added, without going into detail.

In June, the ECJ said that Hungary's 2017 law on requiring NGOs with foreign-funding to register and disclose their donors breaks EU law.

The law was boycotted by several NGOs in protest.

A legislative motion put forward by opposition politicians in Hungary on annulling the legislation is making its way through the parliament, but it is not clear yet when MPs, where a two-third majority is loyal to the ruling Fidesz party, will vote on it.

Civil organisations say that despite the ruling, Hungarian authorities tasked with coordinating EU funds (specifically the Erasmus+ educational program) denied a human-rights educational NGO funding over non-compliance with the same law, which has been struck down.

"All this serves a single purpose: to exclude NGOs from EU tender funds by administrative means," the Civilisation Coalition said in a statement. The coalition is a joint campaign of 34 Hungarian organisations, founded in 2017 in response to the NGO law, and includes Transparency International and Greenpeace.

Hungary's government at the time argued that it wants to make funding more transparent with the law - but NGOs perceived it as a targeted attack, and attempt at stigmatisation.

The law has been dubbed 'Lex Soros' as the legislation was seen as an another attempt by Viktor Orban's government to target Hungarian-US billionaire George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations help finance several groups.

It was also not the first attempt by the Orban government to have better control over possibly critical NGOs.

In 2014, Norway suspended all grants to Hungary, €214m for the 2014-21 funding period, after the Orban government had sought too much control over how the grants are administered.

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