28th Feb 2024

EU launches legal action against Hungary over sovereignty bill

  • About €21bn in EU funds remain blocked over concerns at Hungary's rule of law (Photo: European Parliament)
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The European Commission on Wednesday (7 February) launched an infringement procedure against Hungary, after the country's recently-adopted sovereignty bill violates EU law.

The law seeks to criminalise parties and candidates running for elections with up to three years in prison for accepting foreign funding — but has raised concerns over its potential impact on civil organisations.

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And it would rely on a controversial oversight authority which can collect data to monitor "foreign interference" in Hungarian elections.

"The commission considers that the Hungarian legislation at stake violates several provisions of primary and secondary EU law," the EU executive said, referring to electoral and basic human rights like the respect for personal data, and freedom of expression and association, as well as rules applicable to the internal market.

The law was previously described as "a bitter irony" by liberal MEP Katalin Cseh, referring to reports of Orbán's interference in elections in Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as to Hungarian investment in media outlets in Slovakia where nationalist Robert Fico recently won elections.

Despite domestic concerns over the rule of law prompting the freezing of EU funds, the bill was first submitted by prime minister Viktor Orbán's ruling Fidesz party in November and has been in force since last December.

Following the commission's decision to launch the punishment procedure, Hungary has now two months to reply to the letter.

If issues identified by the EU executive in the letter are not addressed by the Hungarian authorities, the commission could decide to send a formal request to comply with EU law as the next step.

German Green MEP Daniel Freund welcomed the commission's decision while arguing that "freezing more EU funds under rule-of-law mechanism for Orbán would be much better".

In December, the EU commission unblocked €10bn of cohesion funds for Hungary — prompting the European Parliament to call for a review of the legality of the decision with the possibility of taking the commission to court.

About €20bn in EU funds remain blocked — including €6.3bn under the rule-of-law conditionality mechanism, about €10bn under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) and the REPowerEU and €2.6bn in cohesion funds.

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