In December 2023, the Hungarian Parliament adopted Act LXXXVIII of 2023 on the Protection of National Sovereignty (the Act). The Act consists of two main pillars: establishing a new Sovereignty Protection Office (SPO) to carry out investigations, and amending the Criminal Code to sanctions electoral candidates and representatives of nominating organisations using prohibited foreign funds for campaigning purposes with up to three years of imprisonment.
Over 100 civil society organisations, more than 15,000 citizens, and 10 independent media outlets strongly criticised the new law. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights called for the abandonment of the proposal, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders noted the imminent negative implications of the adoption of the proposal in their joint communication to the Hungarian Government. The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe seized the Venice Commission to provide an opinion on the proposal. On 7 February 2024 the European Commission announced that it decided to launch an infringement procedure against Hungary for violating EU law on the Defence of Sovereignty.
- The SPO was set up as of 1 February 2024. Its president is nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by the President of the Republic for a renewable term of six years. The current office-holder is Mr Tamás Lánczi.
- The main task of the SPO is “to protect constitutional identity” through various activities listed in Section 2 of the Act, including by carrying out investigations against individuals or legal entities. The SPO releases a public report about the findings of its Investigations.
- No legal remedies are available against the SPO’s actions, including against its investigations or the publication of its findings.
- The SPO has very broad powers to request information or data from the subjects of its investigations who cannot challenge this. In addition, it will be fed information by the National Information Centre, a recently established super-intelligence agency.
- Beyond setting out the SPO and its activities, the Act introduced a new Section 350/A into the Criminal Code on “Illegal influence of the will of voters”. Candidates and certain representatives of nominating organisations found guilty of committing this crime can be punished with up to three years of imprisonment.