Thursday

8th Dec 2016

Hungary PM dismisses law reform criticism

  • Orban brushed aside international criticism on recent reforms to the constitution (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday (14 March) brushed aside criticism that recent changes to the constitution would undermine democracy.

“Who will be able to present even one single point of evidence, fact which could be a basis for an argument that what we are doing is against democracy?” he told reporters in Brussels.

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Hungarian lawmakers introduced an amendment on Monday that pro-right groups say rollback the democratic oversight of the constitutional court. The court can no longer refer to cases prior to January 2012 as a basis for its interpretation of fundamental laws.

Berlin-based Transparency International says the power grab is an invitation for lobbying by special interests or government intervention.

“Legislation enabling arbitrary interference within the judicial process undermines public trust in the fairness of procedures,” said Miklos Ligeti, legal director of Transparency International Hungary, in a statement.

Other impositions of the amendment include a ban on sleeping in the streets, status of churches, a more limited definition of family through marriage and restrictions on political campaign adverts to public service media during elections.

The constitutional court had them all annulled.

But the changes, and others, voted through by a parliament dominated by Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party, unravel the court’s decisions.

For his part, Orban said the parliament did not adopt any legislation that would limit the powers of the constitutional court.

“We had to amend the constitution because the constitutional court requested it from the parliament,” he said.

The constitutional court in December modified several so-called transitional provisions of the new constitution. It said some of those provisions were in fact substantial and should be introduced into basic law.

Parliamentary debates on the provisions kicked off in the first week of February, with the month-long debate drawing no international criticism until a few days before the vote.

“A day from the vote I get a call from Brussels to stop the vote. Isn’t this absurd?” said Orban.

The opposition, for its part, walked out in protest and placed black flags on the windows.

Orban’s government is accused of strategically placing political supporters in key posts in public institutions.

The head of the powerful media council is a former Fidesz minister, appointed by Orban and elected by a two-third majority vote in parliament.

“If you say one by one we run the institutions then you are right because we reformed everything, the labour market, the civic [code], penalty [code], the constitution,” said Orban.

The human rights watchdog the Council of Europe first flagged the issue over the amendment last week, followed by critical statements from the United States and the EU.

On Thursday in Berlin, the EU justice commissioner Vivianne Reding told reporters that the Brussels-executive is following events closely.

She said the commission could initiative infringement proceedings, if necessary.

Under EU rules, Hungary could even be stripped of its voting rights under article 7 of the EU treaty, in what she called the “nuclear option.”

“At Barroso’s request, we are going to use all the instruments that are available,” Reding’s spokesperson told this website.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz, for his part, also invoked the article 7 procedure against Hungary.

He noted that the EU must first prove beyond a doubt that Hungary’s legal justifications are not in line with European law.

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