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EU gives Hungary two months to change NGO law, or face fines

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s executive on Thursday gave Hungary two months to change a contentious law requiring civil organisations to disclose foreign donors, or face fines.

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters, where Brexit talks are taking place, in Brussels, Belgium, December 24, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) last year ruled that the 2017 law “introduced discriminatory and unjustified restrictions” in breach of fundamental rights, including on personal data protection and freedom of association.

“Civil society organisations are indispensable part of our democracies. We must support them, not fight them,” said Vera Jourova, a deputy head of the European Commission.

As reported by Reuters in advance, the Commission on Thursday sent a letter of formal notice to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government giving it two months to implement the CJEU ruling.

That is part of an infringement procedure through which the Commission takes on EU countries violating the bloc’s laws. Should Budapest fail to react, the Commission could ask the CJEU to impose financial fines.

The EU has long accused Orban of undermining democratic freedoms of courts, media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and academics, as well as of violating the law with his restrictive migration policies.

The EU put Hungary, as well as its nationalist ally Poland, under a probe over rule of law concerns and Orban’s Fidesz party was suspended from the biggest centre-right political group in the European Parliament.

But Orban dismisses the criticism and told Reuters in an interview last September that he saw himself as a “freedom fighter”.

The NGO law is part of Orban’s feud with the Budapest-born U.S. billionaire George Soros who promotes liberal and open societies. Orban has repeatedly accused NGOs funded by Soros of political meddling to promote migration and Western values.

A spokeswoman for Hungary’s EU mission said earlier this week Budapest was negotiating with the Commission on the law, was ready to repeal it and replace it with a new one.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska