It was on 8 September that Hungarian police carried out a raid on the offices of the organisation Ökotárs in Budapest. The organisation is tasked with managing the funds allocated to NGOs in Hungary through the EEA and Norway Grants, on behalf of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The Hungarian police also raided the homes of some of the organisation’s staff.
The police confiscated documents and IT equipment. The Hungarian authorities do not respect the independence of civil society, and have therefore launched an audit of the funds provided by Norway to Hungarian NGOs. This is the reason for the raid. This audit is in breach of the agreements Hungary has entered into on the management of the EEA and Norway Grants. The fund operator has also been accused of engaging in criminal activities.
‘The police raid on 8 September is completely unacceptable. It shows that the Hungarian Government intends to stop the activities of NGOs that are critical to the authorities. It also shows that the Hungarian Government is failing to respect common European values relating to democracy and good governance,’ said Mr Helgesen.
The audit that the Hungarian authorities have launched is in violation of the agreements Hungary has signed on the management of the Grants. It is clearly set out that the donor countries are responsible for the programme area on NGOs, and for any audits of this funding.
Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway already have plans to audit 13 NGO funds this autumn, including the one in Hungary. The Hungarian authorities have been invited to cooperate in this audit.
However, the pressure on the fund operator in Hungary has increased since this spring. There have been demands for the fund operator to hand over sensitive information, because the Hungarian authorities disapprove of the projects that have been allocated funding.
The programme area on NGOs supports measures to strengthen democratic values and minority rights and improve the situation for vulnerable groups. The Hungarian authorities have criticised the fact that organisations such as Transparency International, the Civil Liberties Union, and a network for investigative journalists have received funding under the EEA and Norway Grants scheme.
As of 9 May, Norway has suspended payments to Hungary under the Grants scheme. However, the programme areas on NGOs and on climate adaptation have been exempt from the suspension, because the Hungarian authorities are not responsible for their implementation.
‘The Hungarian authorities are well aware of the requirements we have set for lifting the suspension. The audit of the NGO fund and the harassment of our partners must be stopped. The police raid on 8 September shows that the Hungarian authorities are seeking to undermine the independence of civil society,’ Mr Helgesen said.
For the current period, the funding under the EEA and Norway Grants to Hungary totals EUR 153.3 million (of which EUR 13.5 million has been allocated to the programme area on NGOs). As a result of the suspension, EUR 129.8 of this amount has been frozen.