Top court: Hungarian NGO law breaches fundamental EU rights

According to ECJ, the law has introduced "discriminatory and unjustified restrictions" on the organisations affected

A Hungarian law targeting the foreign funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) violates fundamental EU rights, the bloc's top court ruled on Thursday, dealing a new blow to Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The issue is one of several that has pitted Brussels against Budapest in recent years. Other sore points include Orban's hostile stance on migration and broader rule-of-law concerns.

The NGO law, passed by Orban's conservative government in 2017, states that groups receiving foreign donations above a certain limit must clearly identify as such, register with the authorities and disclose the names of donors. The information is also published online.

Hungary argues that the move was aimed at increasing transparency, but critics say the law is tailored to target US billionaire George Soros, a Hungarian-born businessman whose philanthropic work supports democracy and human rights around the world.

"The law has introduced "discriminatory and unjustified restrictions" on the organisations affected, as well as their backers," the European Court of Justice said in a statement, as quoted by dpa.

"These are in breach of the free movement of capital, one of the European Union's core principles, as well as fundamental EU rights to respect for private and family life, the protection of personal data and freedom of association," the Luxembourg-based judges argued.

"The law is likely to deter potential foreign backers, while creating a "climate of distrust" towards any organization receiving funds from abroad", they added since the law is based on a presumption that "any financial support of civil organizations that is sent from abroad is intrinsically suspect."

The law applies to any NGO receiving more than 7.2m forint (23,500 dollars) and requires them to disclose how many donors have provided more than 500,000 forint.

Budapest faces the threat of hefty fines if it does not implement the ECJ ruling without delay. The case was brought by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. Thursday's ruling follows the advice of one of the court's advocate generals earlier this year.

It is one of several setbacks the top EU court has dealt to Orban's government. Last month, the ECJ raised legal doubts about Hungary's detention of asylum seekers in transit centres along the border to Serbia. A week later, Budapest said it would close the Roszke and Tompa camps.

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