The European Commission has referred Hungary to the EU's Court of Justice over two cases concerning freedom of speech that, after more than one year, remain unresolved.
It marks a new chapter in the standoff between Brussels and Budapest over fundamental democratic values.
The first case relates to the highly controversial Children Protection Act, a law whose stated purpose is to safeguard children’s well-being and fight paedophilia.
As part of the overall text, lawmakers from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party introduced an amendment that prohibits the portrayal of homosexuality and gender reassignment in content addressed to minors, such as school education material and TV programmes.
The provision unleashed a political storm, with the Commission, the European Parliament and a majority of member states openly criticising Orbán's government and blasting the law as homophobic and transphobic.
Brussels argued the law violates a series of EU law principles, including human dignity, freedom of expression and information, the right to private life and the right to data protection, as well as single market rules on audio-visual services and e-commerce.
Budapest said the act did not discriminate against any particular community and was exclusively focused on the protection of children.
The Commission opened legal action against Hungary in July 2021.
"The protection of children is an absolute priority for the EU and its member states. However, the Hungarian law contains provisions which are not justified on the basis of promoting this fundamental interest or are disproportionate to achieve the stated objective," the executive said on Friday.
Independent radio station forced off air
The second case relates to Klubrádió, an independent, liberal-leaning radio station whose news and discussions were often critical of the government. It was considered one of the few remaining opposition media outlets in the country.
Klubrádió was forced off the airwaves after the national authorities refused to extend its broadcasting licence "on highly questionable grounds" and now operates online.
The move was seen as an example of government-sponsored repression of critical journalism and a major blow to media pluralism in the country.
Klubrádió's former frequency was allocated to a station owned by a group close to Orbán.
The Commission considered the licence refusal had been "disproportionate" and "non-transparent," and opened legal action in June 2021.
"Through its conduct, Hungary has also violated the freedom of speech as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU," the executive said.
Once the executive launches a so-called infringement procedure, it begins a back-and-forth process with the accused member state in order to resolve the outstanding dispute.
If the wrongdoing persists, the Commission refers the matter to the EU’s Court of Justice in a bid to force the country’s hand. Most cases are resolved before the court steps in.
The tribunal examines the case and listens to the arguments of both sides. It then issues a ruling which can introduce interim measures to correct the breach of EU law and also impose daily fines, which are subtracted from the country's allocation of EU funds.
Reacting to Friday's announcement, Hungary's Justice Minister Judit Varga said she hoped "common sense" would prevail in Luxembourg and a favourable ruling would be issued in her country's interests.