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Constitutional amendments under fire

March 9th, 2013

Left-wing columnists, echoing European and US concerns, accuse the government of violating basic democratic principles by incorporating in the Basic Law provisions which have been ruled unconstitutional. A right-wing commentator, on the other hand, believes that such worries are groundless and motivated by the opposition parties’ partisan views.

Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, called upon the Hungarian government to postpone the parliamentary vote on the fourth round of constitutional amendments (see BudaPost February 11) scheduled for Monday. According to the Norwegian Social Democrat, the proposed amendments may weaken democratic checks and balances. Jagland recommends that, the bill be scrutinized by the Venice Commission (the legal advisory body of the Council of Europe) before the Hungarian Parliament votes on it. Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the US State Department issued communique to express concern that the amendments, if passed, would weaken democratic institutions and the rule of law. Nuland called upon the Hungarian government to take into account the opinion of the Venice Commission. EU Commission chief José Manuel Barroso expressed his concern in a phone conversation with PM Viktor Orbán. His deputy, Human Rights Commissioner Viviane Reding said she was closely monitoring the matter and added that after discussing Hungarian and Romanian constitutional reforms, the foreign ministers of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland called upon the European Commission to act in order to protect basic European norms. Fidesz politicians claimed the worries are unfounded and the amendments do not at all compromise democratic principles at all. They also added that the new round of constitutional amendments was necessitated by the recent decisions of the Constitutional Court (see BudaPost December 31, 2012 and March 5, 2013) and thus should be seen as necessary steps to restore constitutional consistency.

By amending it for the fourth time within fourteen months since its adoption, the governing parties undermine the authority of the Basic Law, Attila Antal suggests in Népszava. The left-wing lawyer believes that by incorporating in the Basic Law the Transitional Provisions struck down by the Constitutional Court, the government is using the Basic Law to achieve its political aims, rather than creating a firm constitutional foundation for the country. Antal finds it highly problematic that under the amendments the Constitutional Court will be denied the right to review the constitutionality of the Basic Law itself, and thus Fidesz’s two-thirds majority will from now on have an unrestricted right to amend the Basic Law according to its taste.

In Népszabadság, linguist László Kálmán points out that the proposed amendments will also prevent the Constitutional Court from reviewing constitutional provisions which contradict the Basic Law itself. As a result, the Basic Law may become completely incoherent and inapplicable, Kálmán contends.

“Comrade Jagland “ would do better to act against real violations of basic European norms, rather than worry about the Hungarian Basic Law, Lehel Kristály comments in Magyar Hírlap. The pro-government columnist remarks that Jagland’s original promises included efforts to fight human trafficking, gender inequality, xenophobia and problems of national and immigrant minorities. As national minorities, including transborder Hungarians living in the neighbouring countries face regular discrimination, the Secretary General would have plenty to do to achieve his original targets in strengthening democratic values, Kristály contends. As for his concerns over the Hungarian constitutional amendments, Kristály suggests that Mr. Jagland is acting as a lobbyist for his Hungarian fellow left-wingers.

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