Today, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Hungarian law listing NGOs that receive money from abroad is against the EU’s fundamental rights.
The justice minister came home and announced that the ECJ said the Hungarian government was right.
To quote the ruling, the ECJ wrote that
“…Law No LXXVI of 2017 on the Transparency of Organisations which receive Support from Abroad… which impose obligations of registration, declaration and publication on certain categories of civil society organisations directly or indirectly receiving support from abroad … Hungary has introduced discriminatory, unjustified and unnecessary restrictions on foreign donations to civil society organisations, in breach of its obligations under Article 63 TFEU and Articles 7, 8 and 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’).”
And the justice minister, who was picked for her youth and femaleness as well as her ugly loyalism, interpreted this as:
“the ruling of the court doesn’t apply to any particular data or evidence”
…and that the court itself said that Hungary is right to demand transparency so she will keep doing exactly that.
So it unlikely that Hungary will do anything about the foreign agent law. Hungary has a long history of ignoring EU court rulings. (“Can they enforce it? No?”) Just last month Orbán announced that his precious people won’t be polluted by nasty, nasty migrants, even if the ECJ says he can’t keep refugees imprisoned on the border indefinitely. It was only different from his usual ignoring or sabotaging court rulings in its openness. It happened after the German constitutional court’s spat with the ECB and it emboldened him and his populist colleagues.
Hungary had since shut down the border camps (during the Covid-panic) where refugees were held for years, sending them into other facilities instead. But expect a new kind of sabotage to follow, just to keep NGOs and Brussels busy. Nothing makes the EU look like they are pushing nasty, nasty migrants on pristine Hungary like constant “attacks” “interfering with our sovereignty” by trying to make us submit to immigration. By making us feed the imprisoned refugees, for instance. Or by making us not harass NGOs. Or by stopping us from listing opposition entities menacingly.
For strongmen, sabotaging EU law is the perfect provocation, and it works every time. And NGOs and Brussels falls for it every time. (In their defense, if they weren’t pushing in the defense of migrants, they would be painted bad with some other excuse, so it really doesn’t matter. Propaganda, once lost its inhibition, will always run faster than the law.) NGOs will probably be listed just as they were so far, in the name of the transparency the court itself said was right.
And never mind that the targeted NGOs have always declared every cent with ridiculous meticulousness, everywhere on their website. The target audience of Orbán’s communication juggernaut doesn’t know that and by making such laws the government send the message that they don’t. (It is the same logic as accusing the EU of being pro-democracy. It is in their founding document, but that wouldn’t sound like an evil conspiracy.)
This is not even a particularly outrageous example, and not even a rarity. Orbán’s government has a long history of saying one thing at home and another abroad – the only news is that recently they started lying about the EU at home. And not just on billboards and to their captive audience (people, who don’t have access to non-Orbánist news sources), but at official press conferences. There is truly an alternative reality in certain minds.
The next (related) law before a European court is the so called “Stop Soros!” law, which hits NGOs that receive funding from abroad with an extra tax, to claw back some of that money.
Because the most important rule in new autocracies is that the enemy shall not eat – meaning that no entity in the country must have a livelihood that is not dependent on the strongman, one way or another. It must either come from the strongman, or it must be taken away by the strongman – but letting organisations accept money from outside sources, no matter how transparently, is against the logic of an economic autocracy. If people could just have a livelihood that can’t be touched by the king, they would be free to speak their minds and stand their ground. That must not be allowed.