Thursday

21st Oct 2021

Outrage against Hungary on the rise in EU capital

  • EU parliament: Brussels is prepared to take Hungary to court over the constitution (Photo: European Parliament)

EU condemnation of Hungary is beginning to gather momentum after its leading party, Fidesz rammed through radical amendments to the constitution, putting democratic standards at risk.

Among the European Commission's primary concerns are the independence of the central bank and the national data protection authority, as well as plans to make judges and prosecutors retire at 62 instead of 70.

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"Retirement age is one of the primary concerns of the commission," commission director general for justice, Francoise Le Bail told MEPs at a debate in the EU capital, noting that it could amount to age discrimination.

Several deputies criticised the commission in heated tones for failing to act quickly enough.

Le Bail answered that "the commission as a guardian of the treaty can only act on a very strong legal analysis." She noted that the Hungarian laws were implemented on 1 January only and that a commission decision on whether to take Budapest to court is expected as early as next week.

Perhaps more disconcerting than ageism, is the nearly 250 judges who will be forced into retirement by December 2012 and the many others who are being lined up to get the sack - raising the prospect that new appointees will be Fidesz loyalists.

Some recent appointments indicate this is already happening.

The wife of Fidesz politician and vice-chairman of the European People's Party, Jozsef Szajer now heads the National Judicial Authority, in charge of co-ordinating judges' day-to-day administrative matters. Peter Darak, who reportedly has close links to the right-wing party, is to head the country's highest court.

The new constitution also lenghtens the term in office of the chief prosecutor from six years to nine and doubles the mandate of the head of the State Audit Office to 12 years.

At the same time, it weakens the constitutional court: the court can now overrule Fidesz-made laws on budget, tax and customs issues only if they infringe basic rights to life and human dignity, the protection of personal data or freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

For his part, Csaba Toth, an analyst at the Republikon Institute, a liberal think-tank based in Budapest, told this website that a related package of media laws - including measures such as forcing reporters to seek contacts' permission before publishing quotes - should also be on the EU radar.

"The points put forward by the commission yesterday skirt the real issues on media and constitutional amendments. These are essential and without changing those the country is heading towards a future authoritarianism," Toth said.

Ugly scenes

Ugly scenes of Hungarian opposition MPs and its former prime minister being taken away in shackles for protesting against the constitutional amendments before Christmas may have galvanised public opinion.

Support for the governing party has plummeted, according to an Ipsos poll released on Thursday.

Only 16 percent of Hungarians still back the party as opposed to nearly 42 percent last year and a whopping 84 percent believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian opposition remains fragmented, with reports of internal disputes in both the socialist and the green parties.

But there are signs former technocrat prime minister Gordan Bajnai may take a more robust stand and consider a return to politics. On Monday, he published an article on his foundation's website admonishing Hungary for destroying democracy and called for a radical change in government.

His former personal adviser and chief of staff, Viktor Szigetvari told this website that Hungary will most likely stick to its constitutional changes despite EU complaints.

"But the economy will suffer if nothing is done financially after the fourth quarter,” he added, referring to Hungary's request for International Monetary Fund help, itself in jeopardy due to Fidesz' central bank reforms.

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