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Venice Commission examines sovereignty protection law

The Venice Commission said on Tuesday that it has examined Hungary's law on sovereignty protection, focusing on provisions related to foreign election financing and the establishment and activities of the sovereignty protection office.

The advisory body to the Council of Europe said in a statement that the legal basis of the office as the protector of constitutional identity was questionable.

It said it was usual for state institutions to guarantee fundamental rights through the courts and law enforcement agencies, and the sovereignty protection office must not interfere with the constitutional powers of the courts and those agencies, adding that there was no evident need for such an office.

Moreover, guarantees under the law for the office’s independence were insufficient, it said, noting that the government was responsible for appointing and dismissing its top officials. Further, the office’s powers were “extremely broad and vaguely defined”, with the risk that the office could interfere in the lives of private individuals.

The body argued that the arrangements may also stifle free and democratic debate in Hungary.

It also referred to restrictions on the foreign financing of political parties, arguing that whereas restrictive measures were in line with international standards in principle,

the law’s provisions extended beyond electoral campaigns to cover political activity in a broader sense and campaigns for social change. “The reason and need for such a broad approach have not been substantiated by the Hungarian authorities,” the body said.

The part of the law expanding a ban on accepting foreign financing was compatible with international standards, it said, only on condition that the provisions were amended to provide for certain exceptions of the new restrictions and for more precise definitions.

The body recommended repealing the parts of the law concerning the establishment of the sovereignty protection office and, among other things, recommended a more nuanced definition of the concept of “foreign support”, as well as a more precise definition of the prohibited activities and their foreign financing in the new provisions of the election law.

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