The EU launched legal action against Hungary yesterday over a crackdown on foreign-backed civil society groups that critics say targets US billionaire George Soros. The move came hours after the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it would end a poster campaign attacking Soros that has been accused of anti-Semitism. Brussels also announced that it is advancing a separate case over an education law that could shut a Soros-backed university, risking a fresh confrontation with Orban. "We have studied the new law on NGOs carefully and have come to the conclusion that it does not comply with EU law," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said.
Hungary's parliament approved the law last month which will force groups receiving more than 24,000 euros annually in overseas funding to register as a "foreign-supported organisation", or risk closure for non-compliance. They will also have to use the label "foreign-supported organization" on their websites, press releases and other publications. Orban's government says the measures are aimed at improving transparency as well as fighting money laundering and terrorism funding.
Separately, the EU said it had moved onto the next formal stage in a legal case that it launched against Hungary in April over an education law, sending Budapest a "reasoned opinion" about the clash between that legislation and EU law. Budapest has been outspoken in its opposition to Soros, claiming that his donations of billions of euros to NGOs in the region are a bid to force Hungary to take in immigrants. Brussels launched legal action against Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic last month over their refusal to take immigrants under an EU scheme aimed at easing the pressure on Mediterranean states.