Viktor Orbán: Brussels opens a new file against Hungary for its law on protecting sovereignty. international

This Wednesday, the European Commission opened a new file against Hungary for its authoritarian drift. On this occasion, Brussels, which is still withholding 21 billion euros from the Central European country due to repeated violations of the rule of law, is concerned about the new legislative package to protect national sovereignty approved in December and which, Among other things, improves. The criminal law code was drafted to impose prison sentences of up to three years on foreign financing of political activities, and an Office for the Defense of Sovereignty was created with broad investigative powers.

The decision to send a formal notice letter to Budapest is the first step in an infringement procedure that could ultimately end up before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg. The opening of this new file adds to the various disputes that Orbán has opened with European institutions for his continued attacks on the rule of law, leading to the European Parliament declaring that Hungary is not a democracy, but rather an “electoral regime.” is a hybrid regime”. Autocracy” In 2018, MEPs also activated the most powerful weapon of the European Treaties, Article 7, which could end the suspension of the right to vote in the Council of the EU.

The list of potential violations of European law that Brussels sees in this new regulation, condemned by the Hungarian opposition and NGOs for its inspiration, they say, in Russian tactics of persecution of dissent, is very long. As the Commission pointed out in a statement, the legislative package that came into force late last year violates many “democratic values” and freedoms guaranteed in the EU. Among other things, he points out that this is against the principle of democracy and the electoral rights of European citizens. And it also violates “several fundamental rights enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights”, such as the right to privacy, protection of personal data, freedom of expression and information, freedom of association or the right to a fair trial.

The violation process is one that Hungary, which has come under intense scrutiny for judicial independence or repeated attacks on minorities such as the LGTBI community, knows well. The Commission continues to block more than €21 billion of solidarity funds while waiting to complete reforms guaranteeing the rule of law. Last December, as a new legislative package was being approved in Budapest threatening a new confrontation with the European executive led by German Ursula von der Leyen, it released a portion of the frozen funds, 10.2 billion euros. Although Brussels confirmed that it did so after considering that the Orbán government had complied with parts of the steps Brussels required to protect the independence of the judiciary, the decision was highly criticized when it was made. Announced just before the European Council in which Hungary threatened to veto European financial aid to Ukraine if its funds were not stabilized. In the end, Orbán relented at that meeting and allowed other European heads of state and government to make the political decision to launch EU accession talks with Kyiv. However, he retained his veto of 50 billion euros programmed to help the country invaded by Russia, which ultimately led to an extraordinary summit being held on 1 February twenty-seven to approve the funds without Hungary’s veto. Forced to do. Approval of aid moved forward, although Orbán’s position threatens to create obstacles for the EU to deliver funds to Kiev.

The Orbán government has responded that Brussels and what it calls the “dollar left” – by which it refers to parties and critical civil society – attack this law because “it (Georges) restricts foreign influence through money. Soros”, the Hungarian-born billionaire against whom Budapest has launched many of its attacks in recent years. In fact, the CJEU in 2020 declared illegal an Orbán law designed to close Soros universities in the country.

The new regulations create an Office for the Defense of National Sovereignty dedicated to “detecting and investigating” foreign or internal activities that “may threaten Hungarian sovereignty,” or “influence the electoral results.” Or “can influence electoral will.” Additionally, it includes amendments that toughen the electoral law and penal code by introducing the crime of “illegally influencing the electoral will”, which carries a prison sentence of up to three years.

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The Hungarian law has been condemned by more than a hundred civil society organisations, who have accused Orbán of seeking to “intimidate, discourage and silence” critical voices ahead of this year’s European and municipal elections. “A country where people are intimidated from representing their interests is not a democracy,” the NGOs said in a joint statement in December. He warned, “By implying that there are foreign interests behind every critical situation, the authorities make their own citizens hate themselves while they seek to intimidate, demoralize and silence those who actively participate in public life.”

Now Budapest has a maximum of two months to respond to Brussels’ letter. If the European Executive considers that the response does not address the concerns expressed, it will consider sending a reasoned opinion, i.e., a formal request to enforce EU law, which would entail raising the case before the CJEU. First is the final step, for which it may ask to impose sanctions on the offending country.

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