Hungary’s nationalist Fidesz party has announced a bill to create a special office to monitor activities that “threaten the sovereignty of the country.” Specifically, the new department will oversee the inflow of foreign funding to political parties, media, and public organizations believed to be susceptible to influence or manipulation by hostile governments or financial interests, potentially including Hungarian-American financier George Soros. The measure is the latest in a series of moves by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government targeting perceived foreign interference.
According to Hungarian lawmaker Gergely Gulyas, the new office will have broad powers to investigate anything that could compromise the sovereignty of the country, but he was sparse on details. The pending legislation has raised concerns among various groups, including journalists, civil organizations, and political parties, all of which could potentially be targeted by the special office created under the proposed law.
Orban has previously alleged that foreign actors were manipulating Hungarian society through media and civil society groups funded by Brussels or the Soros network. The Hungarian leader has accused the EU of interfering in the country’s political process, particularly regarding financial support, and has clashed with Brussels over allegations of non-compliance with EU policies on rule of law and other standards.
The potential crackdown on foreign funding for certain groups within Hungary is not new, as a 2017 piece of legislation targeted NGOs receiving financing from abroad. This law was later rebuked by the EU Court of Justice for imposing “discriminatory and unjustified restrictions” on basic rights and freedoms. Critics of the latest bill have argued that the new authority is part of a broader attempt to limit public participation and freedom of the press in Hungary, and will reinforce the government’s claim that foreign financing is against the country’s interests.
Meanwhile, Fidesz has accused Hungarian and international liberal groups and journalists of conspiring to delegitimize the Orban government by acting as the willing or unwitting tools of malicious foreign financiers. The proposed legislation is seen by critics as an attempt to further crackdown on political opposition, civil society, and media outlets perceived as hostile to Orban’s rule.
The ongoing power struggle between the Hungarian government and pro-European forces is driven by a long-held suspicion on both sides, with the ruling party wary of foreign influence on their domestic policy and the politicians and activists seeking closer ties with the EU often accusing Orban of eroding Hungary’s democratic institutions. The introduction of the proposed bill is expected only to escalate tensions between nationalist and EU-aligned factions within the eastern European nation.
This latest development will further test Hungary’s relations with the EU, which is already simmering over disagreements on rule-of-law and democracy norms. The Hungarian government, however, is expected to plow on with the new office, seen as an important step in protecting the nation from foreign influence and preserving its democratic integrity. As the ruling Fidesz party pushes forward with its latest restrictions, it remains wary of foreign elements attempting to assert their will on the Hungarian political landscape.