Hungary: EU Court of Justice Rules that Anti-NGO Law Unduly Restricts Fundamental Rights

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In its judgement, the top EU Court recognised that Hungary’s law on the ’Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad’ (i.e. receiving foreign funds) introduced in 2017 is restrictive, discriminatory and "likely to create a general climate of mistrust and stigmatisation of the associations and foundations concerned in Hungary."

The Court ruled that the measures introduced by Hungary are contrary to EU law "inasmuch as they rendered significantly more difficult, in several respects, the action and the operation of the associations falling within the scope of that law." By acknowledging that such limitations to the rights of civil society are incompatible with EU law - notably with the law on free movement of capitals within the EU and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights - the Curia strongly reaffirmed the fundamental role played by civil society in a democratic State founded on the rule of law.

The case against Hungary was brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union by the European Commission in February 2018 for its failure to fulfill its obligations under the Treaties. In his statement following the Court’s ruling, Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders echoed the Court saying: "A strong, vibrant and independent civil society is key to upholding the common European values of the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy. Civil society organisations in the EU must be free to enjoy their right to freedom of association, which includes the freedom to seek, secure and utilise resources. This has been confirmed by today’s judgement. I am pleased to see that the Court fully upheld the Commission’s arguments in its ruling, protecting the freedom of association of civil society organisations in the EU."

FIDH, through its Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and its member organisation in Hungary, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), welcomes this ruling after having long warned against the threats Hungary’s recent laws pose for civil society organisations in their clear intent to stifle public speech and restrict fundamental rights, and advocated against them at the national and EU level. "This decision strongly asserts that stigmatising and intimidating NGOs receiving funding from abroad and obstructing their work is not accepted in the European Union" said Marta Pardavi, Co-Chair of the HHC. In this respect, the ruling is a victory not only for Hungarian civil society organisations, who have campaigned fiercely against this law since its adoption, but for European civil society as a whole.

FIDH has repeatedly advocated before the EU institutions to scrutinise Hungary on its respect for EU principles and hold it to account. It will follow Hungary’s compliance with the Court ruling and ensure that Hungary’s persistent efforts to delegitimise and thwart civil society organisations, restrict human rights and erode the rule of law are monitored, denounced and brought before the competent bodies.

See also EU Ministers Must Commit to Upholding EU Principles in Hungary

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