The European Commission has today launched an infringement procedure against Hungary following the introduction in mid-December of legislation establishing a supervisory authority with a mission the prevention of “foreign interventions” in the electoral process and “the protection of the sovereignty” of the country.

The legislative package, which provides for prison terms, has been denounced by non-governmental organizations and opponents of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a new attack on the institutions that check his power.

The Commission explains in a statement that it sent Budapest a notice for violation of European Union law. The Hungarian government has two months to respond.

Although the European Commission released in mid-December a package of 10 billion euros for Hungary, 21 billion of European funds intended for Hungary remain frozen by the EU in the framework of the proceedings launched against Budapest for violations of the rule of law.

After an in-depth examination, “the Commission raises serious concerns about the compatibility of the new law with EU law”, mainly regarding “the principle of democracy, electoral rights, respect for the Charter of Fundamental Rights of EU, EU data protection and many rules that apply to the internal market,” explains a representative of the European Commission.

“Also, the creation of a new authority with extensive powers and a strict monitoring and sanctioning regime risks seriously damaging democracy in Hungary,” the spokeswoman added during a press conference.

As European and municipal elections approach in June 2024, this “independent sovereignty protection office” will be tasked with “investigating illegal attacks” that threaten national security – including the activities of externally funded organisations.

The Hungarian government systematically accuses the EU and “various foreign organizations”, mainly American, of “distributing billions of euros” to the opposition “to influence the choices of voters”.

Investigations by the authority, headed by an Orbán man, could lead to the launch of judicial inquiries that could mean jail terms for any election candidate targeted.

Another concern concerns his unlimited, unchallenged power to search for sensitive data and personal information.

Many non-governmental human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have denounced the government’s intention to “silence critical voices”, arguing that “journalists, businesses, trade unions, churches and municipal authorities” could be targeted.

The United States is concerned about a law “that runs counter to our shared values ​​of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law” that gives the government “draconian tools that can be used to intimidate and punish people for their opinions which the party in power does not share”.