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Commission moves to sue Hungary over ‘Stop Soros’ laws

The European Commission (EC) is set to sue Hungary at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) over the governmentʼs controversial “Stop Soros” laws, according to a report by daily newspaper Népszava. The legislation criminalizes the promotion or support of what the government defines as illegal immigration.

In tandem with the legislation, the government ran an intensive propaganda campaign, sending leaflets claiming that Hungarian-born billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros aims to bring millions of migrants to the EU (photo: Peter Csaszar/Shutterstock.com).

The EC has reportedly found Hungaryʼs responses to its doubts regarding the “Stop Soros” legislation - which was passed in June 2018 - insufficient to ease its concerns, and has hence decided to take the procedure to its final stage, according to Népszavaʼs sources.

The EC argues that “Stop Soros” is incompatible with EU legislation, as it makes activities supporting the acquisition of refugee status and residence permits punishable as crimes.

The package defines support for illegal immigration in the Criminal Code as offering to initiate an application for asylum to anybody who has arrived from, or passed through on the way to Hungary, any country in which that person was not persecuted. The first offense is treated as a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 90 days; however, repeat offenses and support of such illegal activity by material means may result in imprisonment of up to one year.

The process against Hungary was begun in July 2018, when the EC sent a “letter of formal notice,” the first step in an infringement procedure. At that time, it expressed concern over legislation which it said “criminalizes activities that support asylum and residence applications, and further restricts the right to request asylum.”

The second stage of the process was initiated in January this year, when the Commission sent its “reasoned opinion” to Hungary.

“The Hungarian legislation curtails asylum applicantsʼ right to communicate with and be assisted by relevant national, international and non-governmental organizations by criminalizing support to asylum applications,” said an EC press release at the time, announcing the second stage of the procedure. It noted that the Hungarian legislation is in violation of the Asylum Procedures Directive and the Reception Conditions Directive.

The Hungarian government was given two months to respond to the ECʼs concerns; failure to do so means the EC may now move to the third and final stage of the process, referring the case to the CJEU.

EC begins new procedure over transit zones

In a related development, the European Commission said on Thursday that it has decided to send a “letter of formal notice” to Hungary concerning the situation of persons in Hungarian transit zones at the border with Serbia, whose applications for international protection have been rejected, and who are waiting to be returned to a third country.

In the ECʼs view, the compulsory stay of these persons in the transit zones qualifies as detention under the EUʼs Return Directive.  The EC said that detention conditions in the transit zones, in particular the withholding of food, do not respect the material conditions set out in the directive and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

In view of the urgency of the situation, the EC has given Hungary just one month to respond to the concerns voiced, after which it may decide to follow up by sending a “reasoned opinion.”

The EC noted that the European Court of Human Rights has already granted interim measures in several instances, obliging Hungary to provide food to persons detained in the transit zones.

In July 2018, the Commission referred Hungary to the CJEU in a case relating to the detention of asylum seekers in the Hungarian transit zones. The case is currently pending before the court.