EU’s top court rules that Hungary’s anti-NGO law unduly restricts fundamental rights

| June 19, 2020

On 18 June, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recognized that Hungary’s 2017 law “on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad” (i.e. receiving foreign funds) unduly restricts the freedom of movement of capitals within the European Union (EU) and amounts to unjustified interference with fundamental rights, including respect for private and family life, protection of personal data and freedom of association, as well citizens’ right to participate in public life.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), which has long denounced this illegitimate administrative burden and obstruction to NGO work, welcomes this decision and hopes it will put an end to the Hungarian government’s constant attempts to delegitimise civil society organisations and impede their work.

In its decision (Case C-78/18, European Commission v. Hungary, Transparency of Associations), the CJEU recognised that by establishing by Law No. LXXVI of 2017 certain restrictions on donations received from abroad (including both non-EU and EU member states) by civil society organisations, Hungary has failed to comply with its obligations incumbent under Articles 63 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“Free movement of capital”), and Articles 7, 8 and 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (respectively “Respect for private life,” “Protection of personal data” and “Freedom of association”).

“This decision is more than welcome! It strongly asserts that stigmatizing and intimidating NGOs receiving funding from abroad and obstructing their work is not accepted in the European Union,” said Marta Pardavi, Co-Chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), member organisation of FIDH and of OMCT’s SOS-Torture Network. “Today’s ruling is a victory not only for Hungarian civil society organisations, who have campaigned fiercely against this law since its adoption, but for European civil society as a whole. It is a clear reaffirmation of the fundamental role played by civil society in a democratic State founded on the rule of law.”

The Law “on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad”, adopted in June 2017, introduced a new status called “organisation supported from abroad” for all Hungarian civil society organisations receiving foreign funding above 7,2 HUF (approximately €23,500) per year. These organizations must register as such with the Court and be labeled as “organizations supported from abroad” in all their publications as well as on the government’s free and publicly accessible e-platform on civil society organisations. Organizations also have to report the name of donors whose support exceeds 500,000 HUF (approximately €1,500) and the exact amount of the support. Failure to comply with these new obligations may result in heavy fines and dissolution of the organisation. In February 2018, the European Commission brought an action against Hungary before the CJEU for failure to fulfill its obligations under the Treaties with this law, resulting in today’s decision.

“Hungary should now withdraw this anti-NGO law and conform with the CJEU’s decision,” added OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “In recent years, Hungary has adopted other laws to silence civil society organisations, such as the Law ‘on the taxation of civil society organisations working with migrants and receiving foreign funding’. As a result, civic space is drastically shrinking in Hungary; we hope that today’s decision will help put an end to this alarming trend,” he concluded.

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