A disciplinary proceeding has been initiated by the European Commission due to recent legislation concerning “subversive” interactions between foreign individuals and Hungarians.
According to the EC, a proposed new Hungarian law is designed to “silence” the opposition and as such violates the European Union’s democratic values and fundamental rights.
The EC move comes amid an ongoing struggle between Brussels and Budapest over rule-of-law issues and despite Hungarian President Viktor Orbán agreeing on February 1 to European demands over a €50 billion aid for Ukraine.
Zoltán Kovács, Hungarian Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Relations, said the contested bill had “nothing to do” with any violation of fundamental rights but serves “to defend our domestic political system and elections from foreign political meddling”.
He added: “The Hungarian Government will continue to defend Hungarian elections and ultimately, Hungary’s sovereignty against foreign interference.”
An EC spokesperson told Brussels Signal that it had decided to send a letter of formal notice to Hungary, raising a number of “serious concerns” as regards the country’s compliance with EU law.
“This follows a thorough assessment by the Commission and an exchange of letters with Hungary at political level on the so-called ‘Law on the Defence of national Sovereignty’, as well as the Hungarian law regulating the financing of political parties.
“In particular, the Commission considers that the laws violate EU law, in particular when it comes to the principle of democracy and the electoral rights of EU citizens; the fundamental rights enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights; EU data protection laws and several rules applicable to the internal market,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, the set-up of a new authority, with wide-ranging powers and a strict regime of monitoring, enforcement and sanctions, risks to seriously harm the quality of democracy in Hungary.”
Since infringement procedures are confidential, more details could not be given.
Hungary has two months to reply to the letter of formal notice. If it does not address the grievances identified by the EC, the authority may decide to send a “reasoned opinion” as the next step in an infringement procedure.
In November 2023, Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party filed a legislative package to its Parliament calling for the “criminalisation” of foreign funding for political parties and the establishment of an “oversight authority” for NGOs.
It also looked to prohibit “anonymous grants” to parties and stated it would monitor “attempts at disinformation”.
The legislation aims to curtail “any electoral cheating and foresees sanctions for anyone using foreign funds in a campaign, potentially leading to three years of imprisonment”, according to Máté Kocsis, the head of the parliamentary group of Fidesz.
The EC said on February 7 that the Hungarian bill violated EU laws on democracy and the equal rights of EU citizens, its data protection law, as well as several rules applicable to the internal market.
“The set-up of a new authority with wide-ranging powers and a strict regime of monitoring, enforcement and sanctioning also risks to seriously harm the democracy,” an EC spokesperson said.
A few days before filing the bill, Orbán explicitly referred to the international Hungarian-American financier George Soros at a conference.
Soros and the Hungarian Government have been battling each other for years, as the first is seen as a sponsor of “hyper-progressive causes” much to the chagrin of Hungarian officialdom.
The proposed Hungarian legislation, the Sovereignty Bill, came about due to issues regarding the 2022 elections, where the opposition apparently received large sums of money from what were seen as “progressive” Americans.
According to Fidesz, attempts were made to “influence” the elections directly with funds from abroad.
This was later confirmed by a national security investigation, which also revealed the support of the unified left-wing opposition.
The then-prime ministerial candidate of the unified opposition, Peter Márki-Zay, stated in an interview with the Magyar Hang news outlet that “several million dollars” arrived from the US during the election campaign.
Márki-Zay later admitted having received around 2 billion forints (about €5.3 million) in foreign funding, mostly from the US-based NGO Action for Democracy, which has close ties to the US Democratic Party.
Hungary has been given two months to respond to the official notice letter from the EC. The body may choose to deliver a reasoned opinion – a formal request to comply with EU law – as the next stage in the process if the issues stipulated in the letter are not satisfactorily resolved.
In the worst-case scenario, Hungary might be dragged before the European Court of Justice. If it continues to enforce the law should it be found guilty, it would then be subject to fines.