Hungary to Ease Planned Restrictions on Foreign-Funded NGOs

  • Move comes as Hungary tries to defuse rule-of-law criticism
  • EU lawmakers backed moving to suspend Hungary’s vote

Hungary’s government will amend a bill targeting foreign-funded, non-governmental organizations, easing restrictions after receiving the assessment of a European watchdog, a senior minister said.

NGOs will become eligible to shed a new, mandatory label of being “foreign-funded” after going one year without financing from abroad, compared to the original three years in the current bill, Janos Lazar, the minister in charge of the prime minister’s office, told reporters in Budapest on Thursday. The recommendation was one of three made by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on the rule of law, which the cabinet accepted, Lazar said.

The bill has been part of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s efforts to crack down on what he calls foreign meddling in political matters by civil groups and institutions, as he seeks to build Hungary into an illiberal state modeled on countries like Russia and Turkey. The European Parliament last month approved a resolution saying Hungary poses a “clear risk of serious breach” of the rule of law and called for a procedure that may lead to the suspension of the eastern European country’s voting rights in the trading bloc.

Other areas where the cabinet heeded the Venice Commission’s advice include in mandating foreign-funded NGOs to display in all press kits and publications their foreign status, Lazar said. The Venice Commission said the clause should be scrapped. The organization also recommended making sanctions proportional, which the government agreed to do, the minister said. Parliament is scheduled to vote on the law next week, according to the legislature’s agenda on its website.

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