Hungary to Modify Law Regulating Foreign-Funded NGOs

The Hungarian government has announced that it will modify much-criticized legislation that would have required nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding to register as such, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

Drafted by the government of  Viktor Orbán, the country's populist right-wing prime minister, and due to be passed this month, the bill as currently drafted requires NGOs with foreign donations of 7.2 million forints ($26,207.55) or more to register with the authorities, declare themselves as foreign-funded, and disclose their funding sources. While the government claimed the legislation was aimed at improving transparency within the country's social sector, NGOs said it  stigmatized them and would limit their activities. Broadly unpopular within the country, the legislation has triggered mass protests in recent weeks.

The Council of Europe's Venice Commission, which provides legal advice to member states on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, said in a preliminary opinion issued last week that, given the government's "strong political statements against associations receiving support from abroad," labeling NGOs as such could "adversely [affect NGO's] legitimate activities."

In a news conference this week, Orbán's chief of staff, Janos Lazar, said the country's justice minister would submit an amendment to the legislation that addresses some of the commission's criticism, including changes to sanctions on non-complying NGOs and the extent of required public disclosure of foreign funding sources. "We have accepted the legal remarks of the Venice Commission," said Lazar, "but we could not accept its political judgement."

The legislation is widely viewed as targeting groups backed by the Open Society Foundations and its founder, Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros. The European Commission also has begun legal action against Hungary over a separate law that, according to critics,  targets Central European University, which was founded by Soros.