Hungarian Anti-Civil Society Law Takes a Blow in Luxembourg

The Hungarian act requiring a part of civil society organizations to register as "foreign funded organizations" violates EU law, said the Advocate General competent in the matter at the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Advocate General Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona presented a motion on Tuesday to advise the judges deciding on the case, in which he said "the requirement to register foreign donors of civil society organizations may violate both privacy and the freedom of association and is not justifiable by the stated aims of the Hungarian government either".

Three organizations place hope in court

Three organizations - Amnesty International Hungary, The Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union - have declared that the position taken by the Advocate General has reinforced their expectations that the act designed to silence organizations that dare to criticize the government will fail at the Luxemburg court. In a joint communication they said "instead of stigmatization and silencing, the government should respond with arguments and dialogue to any criticisms of its work".

In 2017 the Hungarian Parliament made it compulsory for civil society organizations receiving more than 7.2 million HUF (approximately 21,600 EUR) in foreign donations per year to register as civil society organizations funded from abroad and indicate this on their websites and publications. The European Commission started infringement proceedings against the law, lodging an appeal at the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Foreign donors in Hungary may fear having their names dragged through the mud

In the motion used as the basis of the court judgment the Advocate General states that foreign donations granted to a civil society organization qualify as moving capital. Hungary has set conditions to the movement of capital, which potentially deters foreign donors, who may be afraid of being stigmatized if the details of their donations are published. Furthermore, by including their names and the sums of their donations on public databases (and thus managing their personal data) the state intrudes on their privacy.

Advocate general pooh-poohs Hungary's public order argument

In posing difficulties to donations, the anti-civil society law affects the viability and survival of the supported organizations, thereby limiting their freedom of association, said Sánchez-Bordona. In its argument, the Hungarian state underlined the protection of public order, while the Advocate General is of the opinion that this can serve as a reference for actions against only those civil society organizations that are suspected of having breached the public order, while it does not allow the imposition of the contested obligations on every organization. In addition, Sánchez-Bordona pointed out that EU rules provide sufficient protection against money laundering and terrorist financing.