Human rights watchdogs hailed on Tuesday (14 January) an opinion from the advocate general of the EU’s top court which said restrictions imposed by Hungary on the financing of civic organisations from abroad breach EU law.
The restrictions infringe the free movement of capital and right to freedom of association, stigmatise foreign donors, and breach rights to privacy and personal data, said the Advocate General Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ), the EU’s highest court, based in Luxembourg, is not bound by such opinions, but for the most part, its final rulings follow the legal adviser’s lead.
The Hungarian law adopted in 2017 requires all civil society actors to register as ‘organisations in receipt of support from abroad’ if the amount of donations coming from outside the country reaches the threshold of about €22,000.
If the donation exceeds €1,500, the donor’s name and size of the donation are published on a publicly accessible online platform.
Hungary justified the law by arguing that it needs to fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. Campos Sánchez-Bordona was unconvinced, saying that the existing EU-level provisions “are sufficient for the purposes of guaranteeing adequate protection.”
“The government should respond to criticism of its work with arguments and dialogue, not stigmatisation and silencing,” said human rights watchdogs in a joint statement.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International said that Campos Sánchez-Bordona’s opinion “reaffirms our confidence in the failure of the anti-NGO law designed for organisations daring to criticise the government.”
As the Article 7 procedures against Hungary and Poland drag on in the Council, the new Commission promised to pursue other means to rein in rogue member states.
“Maybe there are some tools that are more efficient than others,” the Commission’s justice chief, Didier Reynders told reporters before the last Council hearing on Hungary. “We are going to the Court [of Justice], and we have had a positive decision about Poland, we are also before the Court for Hungary.”
In July 2019, the European Commission announced that it was taking Hungary to Court for further restricting the right to request asylum and criminalising providing assistance to asylum-seekers, punishable by up to a year in prison.
The legislation was dubbed the “Stop Soros” laws after liberal US billionaire George Soros, who has been accused by Viktor Orbán’s government of orchestrating migration to Europe.
The Commission has also launched proceedings against Hungary for denying food to asylum seekers in transit zones.
However, NGOs warn against abandoning the Article 7 procedures altogether.
“The Article 7 procedure, as opposed to infringement proceedings in individual cases, can provide a comprehensive picture of the rule of law and human rights in a member state,” the Hungarian Helsinki Committee told EURACTIV.
“The various infringement procedures should not replace other EU mechanisms for the rule of law and respect for fundamental EU values.”
(Edited by Benjamin Fox)