Hungary’s immigration tax affecting NGOs violates the rights to free expression and association, therefore, the law package dubbed “Stop Soros” should be repealed, the Council of Europe Venice Commission and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said in a joint opinion on Friday.
In the document, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and legal experts of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission said they recognise that states can raise revenue through taxation, and that taxation can be used to dissuade and penalise activities that, while lawful, are not considered in the public interest. At the same time, they said taxation is neither designed nor should be used to discourage the exercise of the freedoms of expression and association, as guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other norms in international law.
The experts said they hold “serious doubts” about the legitimacy of the aim of the Hungarian immigration tax which entered into force in August. They added that “the tax does not just finance a government activity, but also discourages legitimate associative activities supporting migration. The use of an apparently neutral measure, such as a new tax, to penalise individuals/entities on account of the views that they promote, interferes with the freedom of expression and association of groups disliked by the authorities,” they said.
The experts said
“the special tax limits the NGOs’ freedom to determine their objectives and activities and their ability to undertake advocacy on issues of public debate.”
Furthermore, new reporting obligations – including the disclosure of the identity of sponsors – could create an environment of “excessive state monitoring” that is not conducive to freedom of association, the experts added.
The full text of the opinion will be made available on Monday 17 December on the Venice Commission website.
Balázs Orbán, state secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, said in response that the Venice Commission has changed its legal advisor profile to “political pressurising” and “clearly sided with those that support migration”.
The Venice Commission‘s opinion does not include legal assessment or analysis but makes political statements, the official said in a statement.
The Hungarian government believes that the activities of “organisations that support migration” have a considerable effect on the central budget because “Hungary protects its borders from taxpayers’ money and these organisations’ activites undermine border protection efforts”, he argued.