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Repealing the Lex NGO: important step, but more is needed

Press release of the Civilisation Coalition

Ten months after the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the Hungarian government finally moves to repeal the Lex NGO. This is an important development for affected civil society organisations (CSOs) as it ends 4 years of unnecessary and damaging stigmatisation. 

The transparency of civil society organisations is sufficiently guaranteed without the Lex NGO, as anyone can easily access, and find information about their operation and finances in their compulsory annual reports available on the website of the National Office of the Judiciary. While the government has accused independent CSOs with a lack of transparency for years, in reality many of them go way beyond the obligatory rules and publish more detailed financial data on their websites in an accessible language.

The draft bill that would repeal the Lex NGO is thus good news, but it should not be forgotten that the Hungarian government has continued its campaign to vilify and discredit CSOs during the past years as well, and even now hinders the operation of independent CSOs in many ways. Some provisions of this draft bill also give rise to concerns.

The title of the law (“on the transparency of civil society organisations capable of influencing public life”) is misleading by itself. In a healthy democracy, the public discourse is formed by free and active citizens – we all have the right and responsibility to address the problems and issues affecting us. And CSOs are just exactly the groups of these citizens working for a common cause.

Furthermore, according to the proposal, the State Audit Office would annually inspect the finances of those approximately thousand associations and foundations which have an annual budget above 20 million HUF (~55,500 €). Sports and religious organisations, as well as national minority organisiations are exempted, despite sports organisations receiving large amounts of public funding. The State Audit Office’s primary function is the control of the management of public funds and national assets. Using the State Audit Office for inspecting CSOs not receiving public funding is just another tool to discredit and stigmatise these groups.

Civil society is a partner, not an opponent of the state, even if it expresses criticism. An appropriate regulation of civil society can only be developed in dialogue with, and participation of civil society. It is still not too late to do that. It is not acceptable that affected stakeholders only learn of new legislative initiatives from drafts published on the Parliament’s website in the middle of the night. Therefore, the signatory organisations request the Hungarian government to conduct meaningful consultation with affected stakeholders, the representatives of Hungarian CSOs before Parliament adopts this law.

Since 2017, the Lex NGO has been a symbol of the abuse of power. Repealing it is an important development, but real change can only be achieved with a shift in the government’s attitude towards civil society. The Hungarian government cannot afford to regard citizens and their organisations working for our common good as opponents: we can only build a functioning country if we treat one another as partners in this endeavour.

Signed by members of the Civilisation coalition:

  1. Amnesty International Magyarország
  2. Autonómia Alapítvány
  3. Az Állítsuk meg a Gyilkos Robotokat kampány aktivista hálózata
  4. Civil Kollégium Alapítvány
  5. Emberség Erejével Alapítvány
  6. Greenpeace Magyarország
  7. Háttér Társaság
  8. K-Monitor
  9. Magyar Helsinki Bizottság
  10. Magyar Női Érdekérvényesítő Szövetség
  11. Magyarországi Európa Társaság
  12. MASZK Egyesület (Szeged)
  13. MENŐK Egyesület
  14. NIOK Alapítvány
  15. Nyomtassteis
  16. Ökotárs Alapítvány
  17. Polgár Alapítvány az Esélyekért
  18. Társaság a Szabadságjogokért
  19. Transparency International Magyarország
  20. Utcáról Lakásba! Egyesület

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Hungarian Helsinki Committee