• World
  • Feb 08

European Commission launches action against Hungary’s new sovereignty law

• The European Commission launched action against Hungary after Budapest passed laws it says are intended to protect Hungary’s sovereignty and curb foreign influence.

• This decision follows a thorough assessment by the Commission of the new law on the Defence of National Sovereignty, which was adopted by the Hungarian Parliament on December 12, 2023 and has been in force since December 22, 2023.

• The legislation came as nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has clashed repeatedly with the European Union over democratic rights in Hungary, stepped up his party’s campaign ahead of European Parliament elections next June.

• The move is likely to further raise tensions between the European Union and Orban. The EU has already placed a hold on €22 billion in funds for Budapest over rule-of-law concerns.

• Hungary and the EU have long been at odds over the rule of law, corruption, the treatment of sexual minorities, education and migration policies.

What is the new legislation passed by Hungary?

• The legislation criminalises foreign funding of election campaigns and establishes a new Sovereignty Protection Office that has broad investigative powers.

• It can demand public and private information from targets, as well as Hungary’s intelligence services.

• It also contains provisions and amendments to existing Hungarian legislation that prohibit candidates, political parties and associations participating in elections from using foreign funding to influence or attempt to influence the will of voters for the elections in question, and to punish under criminal law the use of foreign funding in the context of elections. 

• Critics say this could be used to subject Hungarian citizens, businesses, and organisations to intrusive investigations with no judicial oversight, even if they have had no contact with or support from a foreign government or foreign entity. 

Why European Commission opposes it?

• The European Commission decided to open an infringement procedure by sending a letter of formal notice to Hungary for violations of EU law. 

The Commission considers that the Hungarian legislation at stake violates several provisions of primary and secondary EU law, among others:

i) The democratic values of the Union.

ii) The principle of democracy and the electoral rights of EU citizens.

iii) Several rights enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, such as the right to respect for private and family life, the right to protection of personal data, the freedom of expression and information, the freedom of association, the electoral rights of EU citizens, the right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial, the privilege against self-incrimination and the legal professional privilege.

iv) The requirements of EU law relating to data protection and several rules applicable to the internal market. 

• Hungary has two months to reply to the letter of formal notice. 

• If it does not address the grievances identified by the Commission, the Commission may decide to send a reasoned opinion as the next step in the infringement procedure.

What is the purpose of European Commission?

• The European Commission is the European Union’s politically independent executive arm.

• The Commission helps to shape the EU’s overall strategy, proposes new EU laws and policies, monitors their implementation and manages the EU budget.

• It implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

• It also plays a significant role in supporting international development and delivering aid.

How the Commission is appointed?

• Every five years, the European Council — made up of EU heads of state and government — proposes a Commission presidential candidate to the European Parliament. If an absolute majority of members of Parliament support the nominee, he or she is elected.

• It is a team of 27 Commissioners (one from each EU country) – led by the Commission President, who decides who is responsible for which policy area.

• The president-elect selects potential Vice-Presidents and Commissioners based on suggestions from EU countries.

• Once the 27 nominees have been endorsed, the European Parliament as a whole votes whether or not to approve the entire team. Following Parliament’s vote, the Commissioners are appointed by the European Council.

• The College of Commissioners is composed of the President of the Commission, eight Vice-Presidents, including three Executive Vice-Presidents, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and 18 Commissioners, each responsible for a portfolio.

• All Commissioners are equal in the decision-making process, and held equally accountable for these decisions.

• The European Commission is held democratically accountable by the European Parliament, which has the right to approve and dismiss the entire political leadership of the Commission.

• Ursula von der Leyen is the present head of the European Commission.

• The current Commission’s term of office runs until October 31, 2024.

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