29 February 2024,   13:00
EU foreign agents law risks breaking bloc’s own law, civic groups warn - EURACTIV

EU foreign agents law risks breaking bloc’s own law, civic groups warn. EURACTIV publishes an article with such title.

“Civil society groups have underlined their concerns about a European Commission draft directive on foreign agents expected to be published in the coming days, warning that it could break the bloc’s own laws.

In a paper issued on Monday (27 November), Civil Society Europe, the European Partnership for Democracy and Transparency International EU, warned that the Commission proposal “may breach EU primary law, affecting both economic freedoms like capital and establishment, and fundamental rights such as assembly, expression, personal data protection, and privacy”.

“For instance, it could limit people’s and organisations’ abilities to gather, express opinions, or engage in advocacy,” the civil society groups wrote.

They pointed to the recent cases in Hungary, where civil society and academics say that rules on foreign funding of NGOs have been used by Viktor Orban’s Fidesz government to crack down on NGOs that promote democratic and academic freedom and groups promoting LGBTQ+ rights.

They also highlighted the EU’s criticism of the proposed Foreign Agents Act in EU candidate countries Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“Third countries have already started using the EU’s legislative initiative to justify their own measures against foreign interference,” they argued.

The EU’s Defence of Democracy package, which is set to include a Foreign Agents law, is set to be unveiled by the European Commission on 12 December.

Commission official have indicated that the draft law is designed to protect European democracy by imposing transparency obligations on funds or links to third countries on organisations that seek to impact public opinion and politics.

The launch of the bill, which forms part of the Defence of Democracy package, had initially been planned for the second quarter of 2023, but criticism from civil society groups pushed the Commission to conduct a lengthy impact assessment, and the proposal has been repeatedly delayed.

The delays mean that there is now only a three-month window for lawmakers in the European Parliament and EU Council of Ministers to debate, amend, and approve the new law.

Instead, the civil society groups urged the EU executive to table an EU Interest Representatives Act that “would cover all interest service representatives in the Union, addressing internal and external funding. Member states’ existing registries should be harmonised or improved, not dismantled”.

“The proposed Package, in its current form, is not effective in countering malign interference from third countries and neglects threats originating from within the Union itself. The legal instrument in its current form does not do justice to the specific threats of malign foreign interference that it is intended to combat,” it added.

“If the Commission truly wanted to counter malign influence in policy making in member states, they should cast the net wide and propose a lobby register for all interest representatives, not just for those who are foreign-funded,” Nick Aiossa, deputy director of Transparency International EU, told Euractiv”, - reads the article.