News

CSOs in Bulgaria under legal attack by the draft foreign funding law

06 July 2020

In January 2020 a group of 62 Bulgarian civil society organisations addressed the European Commissioners with a letter in which they described the smear campaign taking place in Bulgaria against CSOs, mainly targeting organisations providing social services and those receiving support from the Active Citizens Fund of the EEA Financial Mechanism (for more on this read the PA news item).

On the same note, Bulgarian CSOs have again expressed their concerns about the shrinking space for civil society, this time with regards to the new Draft Law amending and supplementing the Non-profit Legal Entities Act submitted in the Bulgarian Parliament on July 1st.

The Draft Lawproposes an amendment to theNon-profit Legal Entities Actin two parts:

  1. The Draft Law envisages taking away some of the functions of the Civil Society DevelopmentCouncil, newly formed structure for developing and implementing policies to support the development of civil society in Bulgaria,including setting the priorities for financial support of NGOs and the distribution and control of financial resources that the state provides to NGOs.

 

  1. However, of particular concern in the Draft Law is its second part,which proposes the creation of “a special register at the Ministry of Finance to reflect all sources of funding for the activities of non-profit legal entities working in public benefit, as well as those working inprivate benefit,in the amount of over BGN 1,000, when the sources of financing are from a foreign state or from a foreign natural or legal person, with the exception of the funds received from the European Union, in order to achieve transparency regarding their financing”.

In addition, an amendment to the Anti-Corruption and Confiscation of Illegally Acquired Property Act is proposed, providing for the creation of an obligation for the chairpersons and members of the management bodies of non-profit legal entities, registered in public benefit to declare when in the previous calendar year the NGO has received foreign funding.

The Draft Law to an extent replicates the Law passed in Hungary in 2017 and which the Court of Justice of the European Union on June 18, 2020, found “discriminatory and unjustified”. In its ruling, the CJEU concluded that “the restrictions imposed by Hungary on the financing of civil organisations by persons established outside that Member State do not comply with EU law” and particularly that theyrun contrary to Member States obligations of the free movement of capital laid down in Article 63 TFEU and to Articles 7, 8 and 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, on the right to respect for private and family life, the right to the protection of personal data and the right to freedom of association(for more on the CJ EU judgment see the PA news item and ECNL analysis).

The particularly worrying implication of the Bulgarian Draft Law is the vague formulation of the limitations, which opens the door for a very broad interpretation of the wording “foreign country and foreign person”, and which can in fact, limit any foreign funding of NGOs in Bulgaria, jeopardising the whole civil society sector.

Provided by the PA Team.