The measure could affect “journalists, civil organizations, and political parties,” according to a Hungarian lawmaker
Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party is set to introduce a bill to the nation’s parliament which will create a special office to monitor activities that “threaten the sovereignty of the country.”
The new department would be tasked with overseeing the inflow of foreign funding to political parties, media, and public organizations thought to be targeted for influence or manipulation by hostile governments or financial interests, such as Hungarian-American billionaire and serial financier of liberal causes George Soros.
Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff for Prime Minister Viktor Orban, declined to give specifics of the new office’s remit on Thursday, when he announced the impending submission of the draft legislation, merely stating that it “could probe all sorts of activities … that would violate the sovereignty of the country.”
When plans to create the new authority were made public in September, a Fidesz party member suggested the measure could apply to “left-wing journalists, quasi-civil organizations,” and political parties.
Orban had recently complained at a party meeting that foreign actors were manipulating the levers of Hungarian society through civil society groups and media “financed by Brussels or through the Soros network.”
“They have openly said that they want a change of government in Hungary,” he said in a speech earlier this year, accusing his enemies of using “every means of political corruption to finance the Hungarian opposition.”
Orban and other Fidesz lawmakers have specifically accused the EU of interfering in the country’s political process by withholding €28 billion ($30 billion) in funds until it fulfills a laundry list of 27 judicial, media, and economic reforms. While Brussels has long accused Hungary of failing to meet EU standards regarding the rule of law, Budapest has argued such accusations are politically motivated.
Hungary previously passed legislation in 2017 targeting NGOs receiving foreign funding, a law condemned by the EU Court of Justice for allegedly introducing “discriminatory and unjustified restrictions” on fundamental rights.
Critics, like the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, have similarly argued the current legislation aims to “limit participation in public life and the operation of the free press.” Noting that political parties are already justifiably banned from accepting foreign funding, the group’s strategy director Stefania Kapronczay told The Guardian the new authority is likely to further the government’s narrative that any foreign funding runs contrary to Budapest’s interests.