STATEMENT: European Civic Forum condemns new Defence of Sovereignty law and calls on EU institutions to act

Statement published by the European Civic Forum on 15/12/2023 – accessible here.

The European Civic Forum condemns the newly adopted Hungarian “defence of sovereignty bill”. The law arbitrarily targets any organisation or person it suspects of serving foreign interests and allegedly jeopardising Hungary’s sovereignty.

It poses a major threat to civic space in the country, which is rated as ‘obstructed’, by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform which tracks and rates civil liberties globally.

We join Hungarian civil society in calling for the law to be withdrawn. Since the bill was proposed, 100 NGOs have expressed their opposition to it, explaining that “the proposed text of the law is deliberately vague and is meant to exert a chilling effect. […] By implying that foreign interests are behind every critical position, authorities disregard their own citizens when they seek to intimidate, deter and silence those who are actively engaged in public life.”

Independent media outlets also issued a joint statement protesting against the law warning on the negative repercussions on media freedom.

Despite the government’s further attempts to shut down civic space, the European Commission unblocked €10.2 billion of the 22 billion of EU cohesion funds frozen due to rule of law and corruption concerns.

This is not the first time that the Orban government has introduced legislation under the guise of foreign influence. The Lex-NGO law, introduced in 2017, was found to be in breach of EU law by the European Courtof Justice (ECJ) as it placed “discriminatory, unjustified and unnecessary restrictions on foreign donations to civil society organisations, in breach of its obligations under Article 63 TFEU and Articles 7, 8 and 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”

The adoption comes as the European Commission unveiled its proposal for a foreign funding directive, which aims to tackle foreign interference, despite serious concerns expressed by civil society.

The European Union has made a commitment to civic space through the Council conclusions and the recommendations on the participation of citizens and civil society organisations in public policy-making.

The European Union needs to show coherence in its approach by urgently bringing an infringement procedure against the law and steps against further deterioration of the rule of law, democracy and civic space in Hungary.