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Hungary’s NGO law still concerns Venice Commission

The Venice Commission, the European Commission for Democracy through Law, says it is still concerned about the Hungarian Parliament’s recently passed law on foreign-funded NGOs, despite amendments made prior to the vote, according to a press statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal.

(Photo: coe.int, the official website of the Council of Europe)

On June 16, the Venice Commission adopted an opinion clarifying its preliminary opinion on the previous Draft Law on the Transparency of Organisations Receiving Support from Abroad. In the clarification, the Council of Europe expert body expressed the view that the law, passed last week, only partly satisfies the preliminary opinion’s main recommendations, the press statement says.

“The Venice Commission praised the removal of provision in the law for the automatic sanction of ‘dissolution’ for non-respect by an association of obligations imposed by the law, notably the failure to report foreign funding beyond a certain annual threshold,” the Venice Commission states. “It again acknowledged that the aim of ensuring transparency of civil society organisations in order to prevent undue foreign political influence, money laundering and terrorism-financing is, in principle, legitimate,” it adds.

However, the commission stresses that this aforementioned legitimate aim “may not be used to stigmatise NGOs or restrict their ability to carry out their activities”, as this effect would go beyond the legitimate aim of transparency, according to the Venice Commission.

The Venice Commission believes that the obligation of NGOs to mention foreign-funding if they receive more than HUF 7.2 million support from abroad in a year is “clearly disproportionate and unnecessary in a democratic society”. The commission also adds it regrets that “no public consultations” were held before the adoption of the law.

Therefore the Venice Commission finds the amendments passed to be insufficient to “alleviate the concerns that the law causes disproportionate and unnecessary interference with freedom of expression and association, the right to privacy and freedom from discrimination”.

The bill has caused some concern in Hungary and internationally as well. Despite widespread criticism, Hungary’s President János Áder signed the NGO law into effect on Friday, saying he sees no constitutional concerns with it.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday morning he does not “understand” the United States’ concerns over the law on NGOs, as he claimed the States has “much stricter” legislation.

The U.S. Embassy in Hungary said on Wednesday the United States is “troubled” by the law, which it says stigmatizes local civil society groups.

The Hungarian Parliament passed the new law on NGOs on Tuesday of last week; it has been seen in some circles as an attack on civil society in Hungary and has been criticized by the European Commission. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) said it will apply civil disobedience and not follow the new requirements.