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Hungary protects its sovereignty - Ordo Iuris analysis

Published: 12.02.2024

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- In December 2023, Hungary's National Assembly passed the Law on the Protection of National Sovereignty, aimed at protecting the country's independence from the influence and political interference of broader external actors.

- Under this legislative act, a new state administration body dedicated to protecting Hungary's independence will be created, functioning as the Office for the Protection of Sovereignty.

- The adoption of the law has resulted in the amendment of a number of other normative acts, including the Hungarian Criminal Code and the Electoral Code, which includes the introduction of new sanctions to be imposed on both individuals and legal entities for violations of financial transparency laws.

- The law has received international criticism and condemnation, including from the United States and the European Parliament.

- Ordo Iuris points out that some reservations may be raised by provisions under which certain decisions made by the Authority are not subject to judicial review. However, the Institute's overall assessment of the act is positive.

In December 2023, Hungary's National Assembly passed the draft Law on the Protection of National Sovereignty by a large majority. The need for the new legislation was motivated by the numerous and increasing cases of interference by foreign entities in Hungary's domestic sphere, which was to apply especially to the parliamentary elections held in 2022.

At the core of the Act are provisions for the establishment of a new independent body, operating within the state administration, created to protect Hungary's sovereignty and constitutional identity - the Office for the Protection of Sovereignty. According to this normative act, the Office is headed by a president, appointed for a six-year term and supported by two vice-presidents.

            The Office's tasks focus on two main areas:

identification and recognition of influence-peddling activities conducted for the benefit of non-Hungarian entities,
multidimensional research and analysis activities.

The Office's primary tasks revolve around detecting and investigating the activities of broadly defined external actors (foreign states, their bodies, and organizations or individuals acting on their behalf), including, among other things, representing conflicting interests, spreading disinformation or influencing political and social decision-making in Hungary. In this regard, the Office has been granted a number of powers, on the basis of which it can, among other things, publish the results of its investigations, call for explanations or obtain access to data, including in some cases classified data.

As part of its research and analytical activities, the Office, among other things, develops proposals and makes recommendations on the protection of sovereignty or publishes an annual report on the broader issue of Hungarian sovereignty. The document includes, among other things, information regarding legislation affecting national sovereignty and the effectiveness of its application, the determination of risk indicators for sovereignty, recommendations to the authorities, or a summary of the Authority's activities and functioning in the previous year.

In addition to the establishment of the Authority, the Law also introduces a number of other changes to a number of different normative acts, including the Election Law or the Criminal Code. A new offense of illegally influencing the will of voters is established in the criminal law, while one of the tax laws provides for the sanction of deleting a legal entity from the register of entities entitled to receive donations from 1% of personal income tax, if that legal entity has committed a violation of the rules on financing a set forth in the Law on the Protection of Sovereignty.

The Law itself has become the subject of numerous criticisms raised by both organizations and national and international entities. The fact that it was condemned in a statement by the U.S. State Department and in a resolution by the European Parliament can attest to its scale. The act in question has also been criticized by a number of Hungarian NGOs.

- Doubts may be raised by provisions implying that the Office's investigative activities are not subject to judicial and administrative review. Nonetheless, in general, the Act should be evaluated positively, as it introduces mechanisms to protect national sovereignty and ensure transparency in political decision-making in Hungary, which, especially in these times of globalization and the intermingling of influences, are crucial to the smooth and proper functioning of the state. The act also reminds us how important sovereignty is," points out Patryk Ignaszczak of the Ordo Iuris Center for International Law.

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