October 6, 2017 / 9:08 AM / 3 years ago

Hungary PM dismisses EU legal action, tells Brussels to shape up

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary will defend its tough new laws on non-governmental groups all the way to the European Court as the EU legal action against it was barely worth discussing, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a news conference with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc (not pictured) at the Government Office in Hanoi, Vietnam September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

The European Commission on Wednesday stepped up procedures against Hungary over restrictions on foreign funding for non-government groups which are seen as a way to target financier George Soros, a longstanding opponent of Orban.

Orban, a fierce critic of perceived bureaucratic over-reach from Brussels, said the document was a “laughing stock” and added his government would treat it as such in its reply.

The EU executive believes the NGO law, passed in June, violates the right to freedom of association and to protection of private life and personal data enshrined in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as the free movement of capital.

“This proposal is a laughing stock around Europe,” Orban said, adding the Commission’s bureaucrats were doing Soros’ bidding. “It reeks of a political inception. It is so ridiculous there is nothing we can actually do about it.”

“If someone accepts money from abroad then they must declare that. Period. What does that harm? What does a grant have to do with capital movements? These are ridiculous things.”

Orban said European Union leaders should first refrain from pressuring member states in politically motivated cases and focus on preserving the freedoms already enjoyed by EU citizens before they draw up big plans to overhaul the bloc.

Proposals to tighten labour rules and allow member states to impose border controls for up to three years jeopardise significant achievements in the European project, he said, adding external border controls should be beefed up instead.

“We are dismantling Schengen (the system of border-free movement within the EU) right now,” he told state radio. “While we talk about the future of Europe our biggest achievement disappears in front of our eyes.”

“The same goes for posted workers. We have free movement of labour in Europe, and we are busy restricting it. We sketch up grand plans and we walk backwards in real issues.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose vision is seen as a spark for further European integration, toured east Europe earlier this year to drum up support for his plan to overhaul a system which allows “posted” workers to work in other European Union countries.

Macron, who criticised Hungary and Poland for their recent erosion of democratic rights, skipped those countries on his tour, which was intended as a message at that time.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Toby Chopra

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