EC infringement procedures against Hungary move ahead for NGO law and Lex CEU

July 13, 2017

The European Commission announced Thursday that it will launch an infringement procedure against Hungary for the country’s controversial NGO law.

The Commission sent the Hungarian government a formal letter of notice, notifying it that Hungary is failing to fulfill its obligations under EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

According to the Commission, the NGO law does not comply with the EU law for the following reasons:

  • The law interferes unduly with fundamental rights as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular the right to freedom of association. The new law could prevent NGOs from raising funds and would restrict their ability to carry out their work.
  • The law also introduces unjustified and disproportionate restrictions to the free movement of capital, as outlined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The new registration, reporting and publicity requirements foreseen by the law are discriminatory and create an administrative and reputational burden for these organizations. These measures may have a dissuasive effect on funding from abroad and make it difficult for the concerned NGOs to receive it.
  • The law also raises concerns regarding the right to protection of private life and of personal data. It does not strike a fair balance between transparency interests and the right of donors and beneficiaries to protect their personal data. This relates in particular to the requirement to provide the Hungarian authorities with the exact amounts of transactions and detailed information about donors, which are then made public by the authorities.

The Hungarian government now has one month to respond to the Commission’s arguments. If no reply is received, or if the Commission does not consider the government’s observations to be satisfactory, the Commission may send a “reasoned opinion” letter to Hungary. If nothing comes of all the letter-writing, the Commission may refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.

Lex CEU

The Commission also announced that the infringement procedure against Hungary for Lex CEU is now one step away from being referred to the Court of Justice of the EU.

The Commission announced that it had sent Hungary a “reasoned opinion” letter regarding modifications to the “Hungarian Higher Education Law”, commonly known as Lex CEU, which would effectively shut down the Central European University.

“The Hungarian Higher Education Law disproportionately restricts EU and non-EU universities in their operations and needs to be brought back in line with EU law as soon as possible,” said European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans. “We expect a reaction from the Hungarian authorities within a month. If the response is not satisfactory, the Commission can decide to go to the Court.”

According to the Commission, Lex CEU is not compatible with regulations protecting the freedom of higher education institutions to provide services and establish themselves anywhere in the EU, and it runs counter to the right of academic freedom, the right to education and the freedom to conduct a business as provided by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Union’s legal obligations under international trade law.