Good news: procedure launched against Hungarian government

Civil society is facing more difficult times in Hungary. On 13 June the Hungarian Parliament adopted a law that obliges civil society organisations and foundations that receive foreign funding above 24,000 euros to register themselves as "organisations receiving foreign funding". Limited exceptions are granted to sports, religious or ethnic minorities’ associations. Foreign funding can be interpreted broadly as it would include the transfer of money but also other kinds of economic support such as provision of staff, venues, coverage of travel, accommodation of other costs for conferences or events, payment for provision of services from abroad. Also EU funding that is not paid through a Hungarian institution is considered as foreign funding (such as all grants that involve direct payment to the beneficiary). The NGOs concerned must register themselves and declare every year the amounts received, sources and details of all sources of funding above 1,600 euros. Such a declaration is to be made public and the mention "organisation receiving foreign funding" must appear on their website. Fines are foreseen for organisations that fail to register. If organisations still do not comply they can fall under the supervision of the registration court, which might convene their general assembly to force them to comply or in the worst case terminate the organisation. This legislation is highly problematic as it stigmatises organisations that cooperate or receive funding from non-Hungarian sources. It takes place in a context of decreased public funding opportunities for civil society and notably human rights and advocacy organisations, and may also limit their access to private funding sources or bank guarantees. Furthermore this has the effect of challenging cooperation among civil society organisations in Europe. The proposal has provoked a reaction by the European institutions and the Council of Europe: amongst others, the European Parliament has called for the withdrawal of the law in a recent resolution, while the Venice Commission has asked for it to be amended. Just yesterday the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary. Commission First Vice President Timmermans stated “Civil Society is the very fabric of our democratic society and therefore should not be unduly restricted in its work” and that it interferes with the Freedom of Association guaranteed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, it restricts free movement of capital and is in contradiction with the protection of private life and personal data. This very welcome decision is also the result of pressure by civil society organisations. Civil Society Europe launched a statement of solidarity signed by 520 organisations across Europe which was presented to Mr Timmermans at the CSE General Assembly at the end of April, and sent to the President of the European Council and of the European Parliament. A plea to withdraw the law was also sent to Hungarian Prime Minister Orban. Therefore we welcome the EU Commission’s action launching the infringement procedure against Hungary in this case of a violation of fundamental freedoms.

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