EU executive expected to increase pressure on Hungary over NGO law

Participants protest against the draft law on civil society organizations' transparency at the Heroes' Square in Budapest, Hungary, 12 April 2017. The protest is part of a wave of recent protests in Hungary against various policies that are seen as a rollback of liberal democracy. [Zoltan Balogh/EPA/EFE]

The European Commission is expected to announce more legal proceedings against Hungary on Thursday (18 February) for failing to change a law requiring civil organisations to disclose foreign donors, three officials said.

The European Union’s top court ruled last year that the law “introduced discriminatory and unjustified restrictions with regard to both the organisations … and the persons granting them such support” in breach of fundamental EU rights, including on protection of personal data and freedom of association.

Top EU court strikes down Hungary's NGO financing law

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said on Thursday (18 June) that the restrictions imposed on the financing of civil organisations by foreigners in Hungary were “discriminatory and unjustified” and went against EU law.

The Commission, the EU’s executive, is now preparing to launch further legal proceedings against Hungary because it has failed since the ruling to change the 2017 law, the three EU officials said on condition of anonymity.

A spokeswoman for Hungary’s EU mission said Budapest will comply with the judgement and has informed the Commission that it is ready to repeal the contested law and replace it with a new one.

A decision by the Commission to trigger an “infringement procedure”, which is used against member states seen to be violating the bloc’s laws, was pending final approval on Wednesday, the officials said.

If the decision is taken, Hungary will be sent a “letter of formal notice” and will have two months to respond.

If Hungary does not comply within this period, the Commission can demand that the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) fine Budapest.

The EU has long accused Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of undermining democratic standards on the freedom of courts, media, non-governmental organisations and academics, and of violating the law with his restrictive stance on migration.

Orbán dismisses the criticism and told Reuters in an interview last September that he saw himself as a “freedom fighter”.

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