Hungary Fails to Alleviate EU Concerns About Sovereignty Agency

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union extended its legal procedure against Hungary over a controversial “sovereignty-protection” law after Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government failed to alleviate concerns that the legislation may be used to undermine democracy.

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The European Commission gave Hungary two months to respond to a so-called reasoned opinion it sent to Budapest, according to a statement published on Thursday. If Hungary fails to address concerns, the EU executive said it may refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

It’s the latest conflict between Orban and the EU, which initially suspended more than €30 billion ($33 billion) in funding earmarked for Hungary due to rule of law and corruption concerns. The bloc’s executive arm is still withholding about €20 billion from Hungary.

Read more: Orban’s Challenger Targeted in Probe Over Alleged Foreign Links

Hungary’s Sovereignty Protection Agency, helmed by a formerly pro-government media executive, announced last month that one if first probes is targeting opposition leader Peter Magyar, ostensibly to determine whether the politician who has emerged as Orban’s leading opponent received funding from abroad ahead of local and EU elections next month.

The agency, which started work earlier this year, has a mandate to probe organizations including political parties, non-governmental organizations and the media for potential violations of national sovereignty, a loosely defined term in the legislation. It also has the remit to tap intelligence agencies for its investigations. Violations in the context of elections carry a potential prison sentence.

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