Hungary passes ‘sovereignty’ law as Orban steps up campaign

By Boldizsar Gyori

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s parliament passed a law in parliament on “protecting national sovereignty” on Tuesday to defend against what the ruling Fidesz party called undue political interference by foreign persons or groups.

The legislation came as nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has clashed repeatedly with the European Union over democratic rights in Hungary, has stepped up his party’s campaign ahead of European Parliament elections next June. Orban has threatened to veto EU aid to Ukraine and opposes the start of EU membership talks with Ukraine at a summit in Brussels this week.

The new law, which was passed with 141 votes and 50 against, will set up a separate authority to explore and monitor risks of political interference. It will punish banned foreign financing for parties or groups running for election with up to three years in prison.

Ruling Fidesz party lawmakers were asked earlier to abandon the proposal by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who said the law would allow the new authority to request sensitive data and private information from anyone without adequate oversight.

The U.S. envoy to Hungary has also repeatedly criticised the legislation, comparing it to Russia’s “foreign-agent bill”.

Orban, in power since 2010, has denied accusations he was undermining democracy in Hungary.

“Hungary’s sovereignty is impaired – and it also carries a heightened risk to national security – if political power gets into the hands of persons or organizations dependent on any foreign power, organization or person,” the bill said.

Orban, who has a two-thirds majority in parliament that allows Fidesz to change any legislation, scored his fourth landslide victory in 2022.

(Reporting by Boldizsar Gyori; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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