EU steps up action against Hungary over ‘anti-Soros’ NGO law

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán arrives for the Tallinn Digital Summit in Tallinn, Estonia, 29 September 2017. [Valda Kalnina/EPA/EFE]

The EU yesterday (4 October) intensified its legal action against Hungary over a crackdown on education and foreign-backed civil society groups that critics say targets US billionaire George Soros.

The move underscores the EU’s toughening stance toward both the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing allies in Poland over the bloc’s democracy norms and migration.

Hungary set for another ‘national consultation’ targeting Soros

Hungary is set to launch another “national consultation” about US financier and philanthropist George Soros, the government said on Tuesday (19 September), paving the way for fresh attacks on the man portrayed as the public enemy before next year’s elections.

The European Commission said it was moving to the second stage of its infringement procedure over the law on non-government organisations (NGOs) because Budapest’s response to the launch of the case in July was not sufficient.

“Having carefully analysed the explanations put forward by Hungary, the European Commission concludes that its serious concerns have not been addressed,” the commission said in a statement.

Hungary now has one month to “take the necessary measures to comply” or risks being hauled before the bloc’s top court, the European Court of Justice, the commission said.

The court can impose stiff financial penalties if member states fail to comply.

The announcement sparked an angry reaction from Hungary.

“Brussels is defending the interests of the Soros organisations with all its means,” Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party said in a statement.

‘Public enemy’

The fiercely anti-immigration Orbán has regularly attacked the Hungarian-born Soros in the last year, calling him a “public enemy” for his pro-refugee stance and “liberal agenda”.

Orbán: Hungary has no big issue with EU, it has a problem with Soros

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he was committed to the EU and accused US billionaire George Soros of “attacking” his country yesterday (26 April) as he defended a law that could close down a university founded by the philanthropist.

In June, Hungary approved a law aimed at forcing civil society groups receiving more than €24,000 annually in overseas funding to register as a “foreign-supported organisation”, or face closure.

But the commission, the bloc’s executive arm, has called the rules discriminatory.

Brussels also announced that it is intensifying separate legal action over a education law that could shut a Soros-founded university, giving Budapest two weeks to clarify key points or risk going before the top court.

Major protest in Hungary over Soros university law

Hungary saw the biggest anti-government protest in three years on Sunday (9 April), as tens of thousands demonstrated against new higher education legislation seen as targeting the respected Central European University.

Set up in 1991 to foster democratic values after the end of communism, the prestigious Central University in Budapest has long been seen as a hostile bastion of liberalism by Orbán’s right-wing government.

A law hastily approved in April now requires foreign universities to have a campus in their home country — conditions not met by the CEU, which is registered in the United States.

However, the CEU said Tuesday that ongoing negotiations with Budapest could soon result in an agreement.

East-west split fears

Fears of a split in the EU between the western states and newer eastern member countries from the former Soviet bloc have grown in recent months as Budapest and Warsaw defied Brussels on a series of issues.

Poland’s right wing government is in the EU’s crosshairs because of court reforms that Brussels says pose a “systemic threat” to the rule of law.

The EU has warned it could go for a so-called nuclear option of freezing Poland’s voting rights within the bloc, but Orbán has said he would veto it.

Hungary set for another ‘national consultation’ targeting Soros

Hungary is set to launch another “national consultation” about US financier and philanthropist George Soros, the government said on Tuesday (19 September), paving the way for fresh attacks on the man portrayed as the public enemy before next year’s elections.

Poland is also defying an EU’s top court injunction to stop logging in an ancient forest.

Poland, Commission clash in top court over ancient forest

The European Union executive asked the bloc’s top court yesterday (11 September) to fine Poland for violating a ban on logging in an ancient forest, but Warsaw said it was only trying to preserve unique woods.

Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic meanwhile also face legal action over their refusal to taken in refugees under an EU quotas plan.

Polish PM rejects EU 'blackmail' on migrant quotas

Poland’s rightwing premier said Sunday (3 September) that her country would not be “blackmailed” by its “largest” EU partners into accepting thousands of asylum seekers under a quota system for spreading them throughout the bloc.