The European Union has initiated legal proceedings against Hungary over its so-called “sovereignty protection” law. Independent media and civil society organizations in Hungary have accused this law of aiming to intimidate them.
The European Commission sent a letter to Budapest with an official notification. This is the first step that could lead to a potential lawsuit.
The letter states that the law violates a number of fundamental EU values, including democracy, the right to a fair trial, data protection, and internal market rules.
Last week, Hungary launched a new Agency for the Protection of Sovereignty, headed by a former pro-government media executive.
The parliament passed the legislation in mid-December, driven by Viktor Orbán’s ruling party and giving the state the authority to look into individuals and groups suspected of undermining the nation’s sovereignty. Conviction for such crimes carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail.
Orbán, who constantly accuses his critics of being paid spies by the West, argues that the legislation is necessary to protect Hungary from excessive political meddling.
The newly created “Office for the Defense of Sovereignty,” which has the authority to gather data on people or organizations that are deemed to have influence over the nation’s political discourse and electoral processes and who receive foreign funding, will be responsible for putting the measure into action.
The government requires Hungary’s intelligence services to support it.
Civil society and independent journalists have expressed serious concerns about the provisions of the law, particularly its vague mandate and lack of judicial oversight. They are concerned that they will face unfair targeting for not adhering to Orbán’s political dogma and will have no ability to challenge the decisions made by the “sovereignty office.”
Hungary has two months to address the concerns raised by the Commission. The infringement procedure, which can result in a lawsuit and daily fines before the European Court of Justice, begins with a letter of official notification.
The Council of Europe said that Hungary’s idea to create a “sovereignty protection office” poses a threat to democratic freedoms and human rights.
The United States has expressed concern over Budapest’s decision to adopt a new law that provides for the creation of the so-called “sovereignty protection office.”