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Hungary should submit the bill on the ‘defence of national sovereignty’ to the Venice Commission, PACE monitors say

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The co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Hungary by PACE, Eerik-Niiles Kross (Estonia, ALDE) and George Papandreou (Greece, SOC), have made the following statement:

“We were informed that the Hungarian Parliament has started to examine a bill on the ‘defence of national sovereignty’, as well as an amendment to the Fundamental Law, with the stated aim of tackling foreign influence and protecting democratic accountability and free and fair elections. The bill creates new criminal offences and establishes a new Office for the Defence of Sovereignty with wide-ranging powers of investigation.

We fully recognise Hungary’s right to protect its sovereignty and to defend the integrity of its electoral and democratic processes. In this regard, we would like to recall PACE Resolution 2460 (2022) which ‘urges the Hungarian authorities to address without further delay the issues identified by the ODIHR and the Venice Commission, (…) and to enhance the transparency of the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns, including on social media’.

Unfortunately, the above-mentioned bill contains provisions with potentially very far-reaching consequences on the functioning of democratic institutions, human rights and the rule of law. In particular, the proposed bill would create a new criminal offence of unduly influencing the will of voters, applicable to those standing for election, punishable by up to three years imprisonment and a prohibition on having a leadership role in any civil organisation and from holding a leadership position in a political party. We wish to underscore that any measures that restrict public debate and prohibit the right to stand in elections must be limited and strictly proportionate to their goals. The offences must be clearly defined to ensure the requisite legal certainty so that no room is left for arbitrariness in their implementation.

As a consequence, we call on the Hungarian government to submit this draft legislation to the Venice Commission to ensure the law will be fully in line with European standards and the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. If the authorities are not willing or able to request such opinion, we intend to propose that the Monitoring Committee request an urgent opinion from the Venice Commission at its next meeting.

In the meantime, we urge the Hungarian parliament to postpone the consideration of this bill until the opinion has been issued and the law widely consulted on with all stakeholders. This is all the more important given that many provisions in the bill would have the status of cardinal law, which are adopted by a qualified majority with the objective of ensuring a broad agreement between the majority and the opposition.”