Germany to Hungary: New constitution breaches EU values

19.04.11 @ 09:48

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - Germany has warned the conservative Hungarian government that its new constitution, passed by parliament on Monday (18 April), is not compatible with European Union values.

  • The Hungarian parliament passed the new constitution by 262 to 44 (Photo: Lassi Kurkij√§rvi)

"We are observing the developments in Hungary with great attention and some worry," German deputy foreign minister Werner Hoyer said in an emailed statement. "The media law adopted at the start of the year shows an attitude towards fundamental rights which - despite some amendments - is hardly compatible with European Union values."

"Our worries over the media law are made worse, not better, by today's adoption of the constitution and its future implementation," he added.

The Hungarian parliament approved the document 262 votes to 44, with the Socialist and green parties boycotting the vote and the far-right Jobbik voting against it.

Opposition groups protested the new constitution over the weekend, saying that the document is being rushed through without proper consultation and accusing the ruling Fidesz party of undermining democracy.

Although most political actors in the country agree that the old constitution, put in place in 1989, contained many deficiencies and required a thorough make-over, critics complain that they have only had a few weeks to analyse the document.

Last week, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, the body's advisory group established in 1990 to comment on new constitutions in eastern Europe, issued a scathing criticism of the document.

"The current process of preparing the draft new Constitution in view of its rapid adoption ... raises a number of concerns that would deserve careful consideration by the Hungarian authorities," the commission said in a statement.

"These include the lack of transparency of the process and the distribution of a public draft of the new Constitution only on 14 March 2011, a few weeks before its planned adoption, shortcomings in the dialogue between the majority and the opposition, the insufficient opportunities for an adequate public debate on such a fundamental process, and its very limited time-frame."

The European Commission for its part has washed its hands of the matter, telling EUobserver that the constitution is for Hungarians to decide and that the country remains a constitutional democracy.

Andrew Arato, a Hungarian expert in constitutions in new democracies, said of the process: "Under an opposition boycott, and involving an absurd process of popular consultation through sketchy and deficient mail in citizen questionnaires, it lacks all genuine aspects of participation and inclusion."

Winning a two-thirds majority last year together with its coalition partners, the Christian Democrats, Fidesz passed the threshold required to change the constitution.

The new text, heavy with references to Christianity, protects the life of a foetus "from conception" and preserves "the institution of marriage between man and woman".

Neighbouring governments are also nervous about wording that declares Hungary's "responsibility for the destiny of Hungarians living outside her borders," and that the government could use this new language to offer voting rights to ethnic Hungarians residing in neighbouring states. A quarter of all ethnic Hungarians live beyond the country's borders, mainly in Slovakia, Romania and Serbia.

Earlier wording giving parents extra votes has since been removed, although the government still hopes to move forward with the plan legislatively in the medium term.

Despite the German government's criticism, the new constitution does contain tight rules on public debts, a change Berlin wants all EU governments to make.

Critics say that it is not their opposition to such policies that has produced their criticism of the document, but that they will now also require a two-thirds majority to overturn these policies, a development that is highly unlikely.

The government for its part, terms the text the 'Easter Constitution' to symbolise the 'rebirth' of the Hungarian nation and rejects complaints that the government has pushed through the document, saying that they opened discussions on the paper a year ago and that opposition parties boycotted the process.

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