Hungarian laws that imposed strict conditions on foreign-funded NGOs are disproportionate and not compatible with EU law, an adviser to Europe’s top court said today.
In 2017, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government passed laws that forced non-government organizations that received donations from abroad above a threshold of 500,000 Hungarian forints (about €1,500) to register with authorities and name their donors, with the information available publicly online. The NGOs also had to declare on their websites that they were foreign-backed. The laws were widely seen to be targeting NGOs linked to U.S. investor George Soros.
The European Commission took Hungary to the Court of Justice of the European Union, accusing it of breaking rules on the free movement of capital and infringing on several rights protected by the EU’s fundamental rights charter.
In a non-binding but persuasive opinion, the ECJ’s Advocate General Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona said the transfer of donations from abroad to Hungarian NGOs is effectively a movement of capital, and the NGO laws amount to a restriction of the principle of its free movement. Campos Sánchez-Bordona said the Hungarian rules also infringed on the right to freedom of association, as the legislation could affect NGOs’ financial viability.
The top EU lawyer also said that disclosing foreign donors’ names online infringed on their right to privacy and personal data, as it could link them to the NGO and may help to ideologically profile them. According to a press release, this “is an interference in the private life of those persons as regards the processing of their personal data.”
Campos Sánchez-Bordona said the infringements were not justified and were disproportionate, because the threshold donation that required disclosure was so low, donations from EU countries are treated in the same way as those coming from outside the bloc, and failure to comply with the obligations could lead to NGOs being shut down.