"Organisations supported from abroad" is what certain categories of NGOs receiving over 24.000 euros (7,2 million HUF) per year in donations from outside the country have to brand themselves according to a Hungarian law introducing new obligations, restrictions and fines for civil society organisations. The law, which copies Russian and Israeli examples and has been accompanied by a smear campaign against NGOs, was passed on the 13th of June.
Liberties, together with our partners and members, has been calling for it to be scrapped since the draft text was first circulated. We met parliamentarians and other officials in Brussels and launched an Avaaz petition, followed by several statements and a letter to the Commission signed by Liberties, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. We also worked with our partners to produce a short analysis of whether the draft law was in line with EU rules. In the meantime, the Commission, in an unusually pro-active move, criticised the law before it was passed by the Hungarian parliament and, after its approval, quickly began its own legal screening.
On Thursday, the Commission started a procedure that will end in the European Court of Justice unless Hungary quickly brings the new law into line with EU rules. The Orbán government has been given 30 days to respond to the Commission's 'letter of formal notice'. A spokesperson in Brussels told the press that “the Commission found that the new registration, reporting and transparency requirements on NGOs infringe EU law and in particular interfere with fundamental rights as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, namely the right to freedom of association, and the right to protection of private life and personal life. Further to that, it constitutes unjustified and disproportionate restrictions on the free movement of capital.”
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said:
"Civil society is the very fabric of our democratic societies and therefore should not be unduly restricted in its work. We have studied the new law on NGOs carefully and have come to the conclusion that it does not comply with EU law. We expect that the Hungarian government will engage in a dialogue to resolve this issue as soon as possible."
Israel Butler, head of advocacy at Liberties, said:
"The Commission’s decision to start legal proceedings is a very positive development. But it’s not enough. The Hungarian government has been dismantling the entire state structure designed to support democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights since 2010. The Commission can only solve this by looking at the picture as a whole. To do so the Commission needs to activate its rule of law framework as it did on Poland. This is what that tool was made for. Taking one case at a time on individual technical breaches of EU law when the whole system is broken is like changing the tyres on a car with no engine."
The Commission also decided to move on to the second stage of its legal proceedings against the Hungarian government for its law on higher education that is aimed at forcing the closure of Budapest's Central European University.