​EU Commission Advances Procedure Against Hungary Over NGO Law

The Hungarian government might soon be taken to the European Court of Justice if it does not address outstanding issues around the so-called NGO law.

The Hungarian government has 60 days to reply to the concerns the European Commission (EC) brought up related to the so-called NGO law. The bill, referred to as the "Stop Soros laws" by the Orbán government, criminalizes people and organizations that support asylum and residence applications. It also further restricts the right to request asylum.

On Thursday the European Commission decided to take the next step in the infringement procedure started back in July 2018 by sending a letter of formal notice. After looking into detailed responses from the Hungarian government to previous questions about the law and changes to it, the Commission still considers the majority of its concerns unresolved.

Three key concerns of the EU Commission

The EC is particularly worried about the way the law criminalizes NGOs that assist and support asylum applications or help to communicate with relevant authorities. Lawyers argue the NGO law is in violation of two EU directives, one on asylum procedures and another on reception conditions.

Second, Brussels expressed its concerns about the law's ability to restrict the free movement of individuals. Punishment under the law ranges from temporary confinement to up to 1 year of imprisonment and expulsion from the country for EU citizens who are, for example, NGO workers, lawyers or humanitarian aid workers or family members trying to get into any of Hungary’s transit zones. This violates the rights of asylum seekers given by EU law, as the Commission has made clear that it believes the law violates the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Third, the Hungarian government, with the introduction of new grounds to declare asylum applications inadmissible, unlawfully limits the right to asylum violating the Asylum Procedures Directive. EU law allows a member state to refuse entry under the "safe third country" and the "first country of asylum" concepts. But the Hungarian government goes further, with a constitutional amendment on asylum that curtails the right to asylum in a way which is incompatible with both the Asylum Qualifications Directive and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

What comes next?

The Commission has therefore decided to send a reasoned opinion to Hungary – the second step in an infringement procedure for breach of EU law. The Hungarian authorities now have 2 months to respond to the Commission's concerns. Otherwise, the EC will refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In parallel, there is a second asylum-related infringement procedure regarding Hungary's failure to comply with EU law. The EC referred the Hungarian government to the Court in July 2018 for violating EU asylum and return legislation with its transit zones bill.