Hungary and the EU are locked in a number of legal disputes over several laws passed by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Brussels is resorting to various measures as it seeks to pressure Hungary to abide by the rulings of the European Court of Justice and the stipulations of EU law.
Hungary and the EU have enjoyed a stormy relationship over the past decade. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has often taken a stand against decisions and laws passed in Brussels; the latest and most turbulent clash being Hungary’s recent threat to veto the bloc’s seven-year budget over a disagreement related to the rule of law. The EU is now calling on its eastern member state to comply with a range of legal requirements and the disputes are likely to drag on.
NGOs in the limelight
The Commission, the executive arm of the EU, launched legal action against Hungary in mid-February after the government failed to implement a ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which stipulated that legislation on restricting foreign-funding of Hungarian NGOs was against EU rules. The Commission gave Budapest two months to respond, after which Brussels may take the issue to the EU's top court and ask for Hungary to be fined.
The EU executive said that Hungary "has not taken the necessary measures to comply with the judgment, despite repeated calls from the commission to do so as a matter of urgency".
The ECJ ruled last June that Hungary's Transparency Act - adopted in 2017 - went against EU law. The court concluded that the "Hungarian legislation threatens the role of civil society as an independent actor in democratic societies, undermining their right to freedom of association, creating a climate of distrust towards them as well as limiting the privacy of donors".
Under the contested law, NGOs that receive funding from abroad above a certain amount are publicly labelled as "foreign-funded" and violators could be forced to close. The law sparked boycotts by several NGOs and government critics claimed its purpose was to stifle civil society.
The EU executive has already sent two letters to Budapest asking it to comply with the ECJ ruling, adding that ECJ rulings need to be implemented by member states without delay.
In response to the Commission, the Hungarian government issued a statement that "as in all previous cases without any exception, the Hungarian government will perform all necessary measures to comply with the judgement" of the ECJ, and that "there are currently ongoing negotiations" between Hungarian authorities and the Commission on the issue.
"During the consultations the Hungarian government informed the European Commission on the government's readiness to repeal the current Transparency Law, followed by a new regulatory framework based on the findings of the ECJ," the statement said.
Other legal clashes
The NGO law is not the only instance where Hungary has so far clashed with the EU over legal issues. Earlier this week, the Commission sent a formal request to Hungary to comply with European Union asylum law after opening infringement procedures on the same case back in November.
This is the last step on the part of the EU before the Commission takes the issue to the EU Court of Justice.
“The Commission decided to send a reasoned opinion to Hungary concerning legislation, adopted in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, that the Commission considers unlawfully restricts access to the asylum procedure,” the Commission said.
The EU executive notes that asylum-related procedures stipulated by the Hungarian legislation are in breach of the Asylum Procedures Directive interpreted in light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.
On another front of legal disputes, Frontex, the EU's border-patrol agency, suspended operations in Hungary last month saying that the country had failed to implement a court order from December to change its procedures on asylum requests.
Last October, the ECJ also ruled that Hungary’s higher education law, which forced a university founded by US financier George Soros to leave the country, went against EU law, but no steps have been taken by Budapest so far.
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