Vote on NGO bill pushed back to June

May 24, 2017

NGO solidarity protest in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square, April 12, 2017

The final vote in the National Assembly on the “NGO transparency” bill has been pushed back to June, according to Fidesz parliamentary group leader Lajos Kósa.

Kósa said that while a vote is still planned for Parliament’s Spring session, the assembly will wait first for the results of the most recent “National Consultation,” as well as the opinion of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.

One of the six questions in the “Let’s Stop Brussels” national consultation ostensibly seeks the opinion of Hungarians on what government policy should be regarding NGOs that receive funding from abroad. The question reads,

More and more foreign-supported organizations operate in Hungary with the aim of interfering in the internal affairs of our country in an opaque manner. These organizations could jeopardize our independence. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) Require them to register, revealing the objectives of their activities and the sources of their finances. (b) Allow them to continue their risky activities without any supervision.

The manipulative nature of the question notwithstanding, the government plans to use citizens’ responses to the question to inform how it will proceed with passage of the bill. The bill would require NGOs that receive more than HUF 7.2 million annually from foreign sources to register themselves with the government as “foreign-funded organizations,” something critics, including UN special rapporteurs, have argued is an attempt to stigmatize the organizations.

The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe also known as the European Commission for Democracy Through Law, is examining the bill and is set to determine on its legality by the beginning of June.

“The question is whether there will be from these the kind of amendment proposal which could be incorporated into the [bill],” Kósa said of the consultation and Venice Commission opinion.