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

EU Reporter Correspondent

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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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EU imposes sanctions on Russians linked to Navalny poisoning and detention

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The Council today(2 March) decided to impose restrictive measures on four Russian individuals responsible for serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as widespread and systematic repression of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and freedom of opinion and expression in Russia.

Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Igor Krasnov, the Prosecutor-General, Viktor Zolotov, head of the National Guard, and Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the Federal Prison Service have been listed over their roles in the arbitrary arrest, prosecution and sentencing of Alexei Navalny, as well as the repression of peaceful protests in connection with his unlawful treatment.

This is the first time that the EU imposes sanctions in the framework of the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime which was established on 7 December 2020. The sanctions regime enables the EU to target those responsible for acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abuses such as torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests or detentions.

The restrictive measures that entered into force today in follow up to discussions by the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 February 2021 consist of a travel ban and asset freeze. In addition, persons and entities in the EU are forbidden from making funds available to those listed, either directly or indirectly.

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Nine EU-supported films compete in the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival

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The 71st Berlin International Film Festival began on 1 March, this year in its digital edition due to the coronavirus pandemicnine EU-supported films and series, three of which are competing for the highest prize, the Golden Bear: Memory Box by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Nebenan (Next Door) by Daniel Brühl, and Természetes fény (Natural Light) by Dénes Nagy. The EU supported the development and co-production of these nine titles with an investment of over €750 000 that was awarded through the Creative Europe MEDIA programme. Targeted to film professionals and media, the Berlinale film festival is hosting the European Film Market, where the Creative Europe MEDIA programme is active with a virtual stand as well as with the European Film Forum. The Forum that will take place online on 2 March will gather various professionals from the industry to discuss the future perspectives for the audiovisual sector in Europe. The Berlinale will run until 5 March, when the winning films will be announced. The second round of this year's festival, ‘The Summer Special', will take place in June 2021 and will open the films to the public and host the official Award Ceremony. More information is available here.

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Yemen: €95 million in EU humanitarian aid for people threatened by conflict and famine

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The European Commission is allocating €95 million in humanitarian support to address the most pressing needs of people in Yemen amid record highs of child malnutrition, an imminent threat of famine and renewed fighting. More than 2 million children as well as over 1 million pregnant women and mothers are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021, while escalating hostilities are forcing thousands of families to leave their households.

The new funding was announced by the Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, at the high-level pledging event for Yemen on 1 March co-hosted by the United Nations, Sweden and Switzerland. Commissioner Lenarčič said: "The EU does not forget the dire situation of people in Yemen who are once again on the brink of famine after bearing the brunt of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. New EU funding will be essential in maintaining life-saving aid for millions of people, exhausted  after a disastrous year marked by fighting, COVID-19 and further economic collapse. Parties to the conflict need to facilitate the access of humanitarian organisations to those most in need and avoid further civilian suffering. Now more than ever it is crucial that International Humanitarian Law and unrestricted access to those in need are upheld.”

In 2021, EU humanitarian aid will continue to provide food, nutrition and healthcare, financial assistance, water and sanitation, education and other lifesaving support to the conflict-displaced and those in severe need. The press release is available online.

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