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Aug 15, 2017

Hungary responds to EC infringement procedures regarding NGOs and foreign funded universities

Pál Völner said that the government presented its case that the restrictions imposed by the laws in question are necessary and proportionate

Hungary has responded to the European Commission (EC) in regards to the infringement procedures launched against Hungary’s laws on NGOs financed from abroad and foreign universities.

The response came after the EC stepped up an infringement procedure against Hungary for failing to bring its amended higher education act into compliance with European Union law last month.

The commission also launched an infringement procedure over a law requiring civil groups to register with a court as foreign-backed once their donations reach 7.2 million HUF (23,600 EUR) a year.

According to MTI, state secretary Pál Völner said that the government presented its case that the restrictions imposed by the laws in question are necessary and proportionate.

“We can’t help that the restrictions harm the interests of [US financier] George Soros,” but “not even he is above the law” in Hungary, Völner said. He expressed hope that the EC would “return to the legal ground on which these regulations were adopted”.

Völner said that he believed the disagreements between Hungary and the EC regarding the laws in question were mainly political rather than legal in nature.

He said that Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic require foreign universities operating in their countries to undertake educational activities in their home countries. Slovakia even requires its foreign universities to be headquartered in the EEC. He said the EC was applying double standards on Hungary.

Völner said the EC had also criticised the requirement for an interstate agreement to be signed before foreign universities may award degrees in Hungary. He pointed out that Hungary had recently signed an interstate agreement with the US state of Maryland to ensure the continued operations of McDaniel College in Budapest under the amended higher education law.

On the topic of the infringement procedure launched in connection with the NGO transparency law, Völner noted that in its preliminary opinion about the then bill, the Venice Commission had said the legislation pursued “legitimate aims”.

Parliament eventually passed a law amended in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendations in connection with the bill, he noted.

Regarding the EC’s concern that the law introduced restrictions to the free movement of capital, Völner insisted that this was not the case, arguing that civil groups remained free to secure funding from any source they choose. The law ensures the transparent flow of money in the civil sector, he insisted.

“Transparency is needed because it is clear that NGOs worldwide insert themselves into the political process without being subject to laws regulating political parties and influence public opinion while eluding regulation,” he said.