On behalf of the EFC and DAFNE, the following letter was submitted concerning the recent developments in Hungary and calling for a response:

Dear First Vice President Timmermans,

As two key organisations representing the interests of institutional philanthropy in the context of wider civil society space in Europe (DAFNE and EFC) we are deeply concerned about ongoing developments in Hungary.  We therefore call on EU policymakers to assess if these developments constitute a breach of European law and the values on which the European Union is founded.  If indeed they do constitute a breach, we would like to ask that you move infringement procedures as well as an Article 7 procedure where appropriate (in line with the European Parliament LIBE Committee on 25 June).

Recent Hungarian legislative movements have raised concerns about the situation of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary by a range of actors at national, European and international levels.  These include the European Union institutions, the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations (UN), as well as civil society organisations including philanthropic actors.

Bill T/333 which was a last minute revised law text adopted by the Hungarian Government just a few weeks ago (20 June 2018) is great cause for concern. According to legal experts, the new Criminal Code provision (Section 353/A) which introduces sanctions concerning the activities of civil society organisations supporting asylum seekers and migrants, implies a clear breach to the freedoms of expression and association, which are protected not only by the Fundamental Law of Hungary but also by the European Union Convention on Human Rights and the European Union Charter on Fundamental Rights. 

The Hungarian government is also creating a new administrative court system and concerns have been raised that this would put into question the independence of the judiciary. In this regard, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee recently published its analysis, Attacking the Last Line of Defence: Judicial Independence in Hungary in Jeopardy. More information, including the translation of the bills, can be found here: https://www.helsinki.hu/en/lexngo-2018/

In addition, the Minister of Finances, Mihály Varga, has announced that Hungary will introduce a 25% tax for support on migration issues. Experts claim that this has a very serious consequence since the Constitutional Court cannot assess the constitutional conformity of tax laws (this was one of the first provisions of the Orban regime back in 2010). The text of the modification to the taxation laws, the immigration-supporting specific tax is § 250 of the chapter, see http://www.parlament.hu/irom41/00625/00625.pdf. Please also see how it has been reported in the news:  https://444.hu/2018/06/19/bevandorlasi-kulonadot-vezetne-be-a-kormany.

A firm and clear action by all EU policymakers is needed to defend the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and civil society and philanthropy space. On 25 June, the European Parliament LIBE Committee voted on Judith Sargentini’s report calling on the European Council to determine, pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded. The report lists concerns about:

  • the functioning of the constitutional system,
  • the independence of the judiciary and of other institutions,
  • corruption and conflicts of interest,
  • privacy and data protection,
  • freedom of expression, academic freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of association,
  • the right to equal treatment, the rights of persons belonging to minorities, the fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, social rights.

In spring, philanthropic actors expressed clear concern about developments in Hungary, in particular the 2017 introduction of foreign funding restrictions, which the sector considers a breach of the free movement of capital. The law of Transparency of Organisations Receiving Support from Abroad introduced new obligations for certain NGOs receiving annual foreign funding above HUF 7.2 million (approximately EUR 24,000) to register and label themselves as “organisations supported from abroad”. Our sector welcomed the European Commission’s infringement procedures against Hungary and the start of legal proceedings against Hungary on 7 December 2017 for failing to fulfil its obligations under the Treaty provisions on the free movement of capital, due to provisions in the NGO Law which indirectly discriminate and disproportionately restrict donations from abroad to civil society organisations. We also concur with the Commission’s conclusion that Hungary has violated the right to freedom of association and the rights to protection of private life and personal data enshrined in the Charter, read in conjunction with the Treaty provisions on the free movement of capital.

Since European actions so far have not led to a correction of Hungarian breaches with fundamental freedoms and values, we call on EU policymakers to take a strong stance on the situation in Hungary and to move the Article 7 procedure since fundamental freedoms, human rights, separation of powers are principles of the core of European values and principles that must be defended. The European Union’s values are common to all Member States and are embedded in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

Yours sincerely,

Gerry Salole
Chief Executive 
EFC

Max von Abendroth
Chief Executive
DAFNE