Hungary’s Orban derides ‘liberal imperialism’ after new EU court defeat

Damning verdict of NGO law on donations comes after migrant ‘transit zones’ were ruled illegal

Hungary's nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban has railed against "liberal imperialism" after the European Union's highest court handed his government its second legal defeat in a matter of weeks.

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) ruled that Hungary had breached EU law with 2017 legislation that forces some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to disclose donations from abroad and label themselves as foreign-funded groups.

In late May, Hungary reluctantly closed controversial "transit zones" on its border with Serbia after the same court ruled that holding asylum seekers in the camps amounted to unlawful detention.

Mr Orban’s crackdown on civil society and refugees and migrants has drawn criticism from the EU and opponents who accuse him of undermining the rule of law as he seeks to build “illiberal democracy” in Hungary.


He argues that Hungary's and Europe's security, identity and "traditional values" are threatened by waves of migration facilitated by liberal NGOs, particularly those funded by Budapest-born billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

"Liberal imperialism reigns in western Europe, and they are trying to force their worldview on countries that think differently. American Democrats and often international courts are also involved in this," Mr Orban told Hungarian radio on Friday.

“There is an organising power in the background; it is easy to find its connection to the Soros network, which is the headquarters of everything.”

Mr Orban’s government has said it will respect CJEU verdicts, but he insisted there must be transparency around the funding of NGOs that “influence” politics.

“There can be no stricter rule for political parties than for organisations that influence political thinking; you need to know exactly who is investing, where they are investing, and how much money they are putting into organisations and politics.”

Street violence

In an apparent reference to Black Lives Matter protests and perhaps recent clashes in Dijon, France, Mr Orban cited street violence and the toppling of statues as signs of growing chaos in western countries.

“I look at the countries telling us how to live properly, how to govern, how to run a democracy, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” he said.

David Vig, director of Amnesty International Hungary, said the CJEU's "landmark decision deals a blow to the Hungarian authorities' efforts to stigmatise and undermine civil society organisations who criticise government policy".

Patrick Gaspard, president of Mr Soros's Open Society Foundations, said the ruling "will resonate throughout the European Union as an affirmation that civic engagement is a vital pillar of its democratic values".

“For Hungary, repealing the law would mark a welcome step towards restoring both the rule of law and pluralism in public life.”

The CJEU is expected to rule soon on the legality of changes to Hungarian education sector rules that forced the Soros-funded Central European University to move its base from Budapest to Vienna last year.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe