Taking a Cue From Hungary, Romania Moves to Persecute NGOs

The ruling party of Romania wants to shut down all NGOs that do not publish reports on their revenues and expenses twice per year.
A draft law has been submitted that would shutter in 30 days all NGOs that do not publish reports on their operating budgets twice annually.

Two Romanian MPs from the Social Democratic Party, or PSD, submitted the legal proposal, which is now set to be discussed under an emergency procedure, and which proposes important amendments to the national law regulating the work of organizations and foundations.

30-day notice

The proposals include obliging NGOs to publish in the Official Monitor, twice a year, information on their revenues and expenses, with details on the persons bringing in the revenues and on what activities the money is spent. Otherwise, they would risk being closed in 30 days.

Together with several Romanian non-governmental organizations, APADOR-CH submitted to the Parliament and the government a protest letter, urging that they themselves adhere to the transparency they are demanding from the non-governmental sector and to organize public debates before passing the legislative changes.

Censorship

The criticism of the proposed law includes the fact that NGOs already have the same tax obligations as any other private entity in the country, and arbitrarily imposing new obligations on them seems to suggest the creation of a form of political control over the non-governmental sector. In addition, the explanatory statement of the legislative proposal is based on several false premises.

The proposed law appears to introduce instruments of censorship on possible criticisms made by organizations regarding politicians and public functionaries. It states that public utility organizations should be prohibited to engage in "campaigns of [...] opposition to a political party or candidate for a public office in which they can be named or elected." The formulation of the provision is vague and can easily lead to interpretations of abuse.

The Ministry of Public Consultation and Social Dialogue has in the last few months organized several debates with NGOs, on the subject of specific amendments requested by some organizations to the bill. In these meetings, however, there were never any broader discussions about the PSD's legal proposal on the whole, although the Senate had asked for a point of view from the government on it.

Inspired by Hungary & Russia

This is not the only legislative proposal submitted by the current government in relation to the functioning of the non-governmental sector. A draft law on the non-reimbursable public funding scheme for non-profit-making activities has been published for public debate on the website of the Ministry of Justice.

During the election campaign of 2016, as well as during the massive protests that took place in Romania this winter, there were quite a few politicians making statements insinuating that some NGOs might have some hidden interests in "destabilizing the country."

It is troubling that some of the proposed legislative reforms seem to be inspired by models recently adopted in neighboring countries such as Hungary or Russia.