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Hungary's law on NGO foreign funding is unlawful: EU court adviser

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban holds an international news conference in Budapest, Hungary, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hungary’s law that requires civil organizations to disclose their foreign donors is in breach of European Union rules that protect the bloc’s fundamental rights, a legal adviser to the EU’s top court said on Tuesday.

The law is part of a series of measures against what the government deems unfair foreign influence that are linked to its feud with Budapest-born U.S. billionaire George Soros. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has repeatedly accused non-governmental organizations (NGOs) funded by Soros of political meddling.

The crackdown has led the European Parliament to open a procedure against Hungary for allegedly breaching EU fundamental rights that could lead to the suspension of the country’s voting rights in the EU.

Tuesday’ opinion, which is not binding on the court but is likely to be upheld in the final ruling, is a new blow to Orban’s government, which is accused in Brussels of limiting its citizens’ rights with a series of laws that could restrict the independence of judges, the media and civil society.

The law requires civil organizations that receive funding from abroad to disclose in a public online register their foreign funders with donations exceeding 500,000 Hungarian forints ($1,670), once their foreign funding reaches a threshold set by the authorities.

The legal adviser to the European Court of Justice said the 2017 law violated the principle of free movement of capital within the 28-country bloc because it required disclosure only for foreign funding.

The law also unduly interferes with fundamental rights, such as the respect of private life and the protection of personal data, as it requires a disproportionate disclosure of donors’ personal information, legal adviser Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona said.

Opinions of legal advisers are usually reflected in the court’s subsequent rulings. If Hungary is found to be in breach of EU rules, it must change the law or face the risk of fines.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Alex Richardson