EU confronts Hungary over ‘stop Soros’ law in row splitting east and west Europe

The European Commission has increased pressure on Hungary over a package of new laws targeting illegal immigration it believes violate European laws and treaties, and which also poses a threat to the EU’s fundamental values.

On Thursday the Commission issued a letter of complaint, the first step in formal infringement procedures against Hungary, in response to the laws passed by a Hungarian parliament dominated by Fidesz, the country’s governing party led by Viktor Orban, the prime minister.

Legislation introduced last month and dubbed the “Stop Soros” la, after George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire Budapest alleges wants to swamp Europe with migrants, makes it a criminal offence to help migrants in certain situations. It also allows the authorities to ban people they believe are abetting in illegal immigration from the border area.

After assessing the laws the Commission stated on Thursday that it had “concluded that Hungary is failing to fulfil its obligations under the EU Treaties, EU laws and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”

The Commission also referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice over the “non-compliance of its asylum and return legislation with EU law” in a case dating back to 2015.

Thursday’s actions could well deepen a long-running and bitter conflict between Brussels and Mr Orban. The Hungarian prime minister has become the target of frequent criticism from the bloc amid increasing concerns he is eroding democracy as he strives to turn Hungary into what he calls an “illiberal democracy”.

Mr Orban and his government deny posing any threat to democracy, arguing that they are just protecting their country from the dangers posed to an EU immigration policy beholden to the desires of Mr Soros.

Defending the government, Janos Halasz, Fidesz’s parliamentary spokesman, said accused the European Commission of working on billionaire’s behalf.

“Brussels is defending Soros again,” he told MTI, a Hungarian news agency. “This is not the first time Brussels has tried to pressure Hungary in the interests of the Soros network. This shows that the European Commission is strongly influenced by the Soros network and is defending its migration policy.”