European Union Takes Legal Action Against Hungary

The European Commission has announced that it is taking legal action against Hungary for passing a law requiring foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations to label themselves as such and reveal donor information.

Enacted in June, the Hungarian law requires NGOs that receive at least $26,700 in donations from abroad to register with the courts, reveal detailed information about donors who give more than $1,850, and identify themselves as being foreign-funded on their websites and in their publications. After careful study, the European Commission has concluded that the law does not comply with EU law because it interferes with the right to freedom of association, restricts the free movement of capital, and raises concerns about the right to protection of private life and personal data and has sent a letter of formal notice to the Hungarian government.

A letter of formal notice is a first official request for information and the first step in an infringement procedure. If Hungarian authorities do not reply to the commission's arguments within a month, or if the response is not considered satisfactory, the commission may send a "reasoned opinion" to Hungary and, if necessary, refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.

"Civil society is the very fabric of our democratic societies and therefore should not be unduly restricted in its work," said EC first vice president Frans Timmermans in a statement. "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."

In a separate infringement procedure begun in April regarding a higher education law passed by the Hungarian parliament that targets Central European University, a joint U.S.-Hungarian entity founded by Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros, the commission has taken the second step of sending a "reasoned opinion" arguing that the legislation "runs counter to the right of academic freedom, the right to education and the freedom to conduct a business." Both the NGO and higher education laws are seen as part of a crackdown on free expression and liberal values by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

"The government is ready to face infringement proceedings with relation to the NGO Act," said Pal Volner, state secretary for the Hungarian Justice Ministry. "These are organizations that want to weaken Hungary's defense capabilities in the fight against illegal immigration."