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EP debate on Hungary’s constitutional amendments

April 19th, 2013

A moderate pro-government weekly is proud of being the target of criticism from a leading Socialist MEP during Wednesday’s debate about the Hungarian Constitution in Strasbourg. It suggests, nevertheless, that Hungary should solve its judicial problems at home.

Europe reads Heti Válasz!” – András Stumpf claims in the centre-right weekly, commenting on a remark by Socialist MEP Hannes Swoboda. Mr Swoboda, who is also the Socialist leader in the European Parliament, said Hungary should stop its “anti-Reding incitement,” adding,  probably referring to last week’s Heti Válasz cover headline, that the Commissioner for Justice had been labelled in Hungary “Europe’s pit bull.”

During the debate held on the latest amendments to the Hungarian Basic Law in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, the Socialist floor leader said anti-Semitism was reaching intolerable levels in Hungary. Hungarian MEP József Szájer retorted that the latest attempt to hold an anti-Semitic motorbike demonstration was banned by the authorities precisely on the basis of a new constitutional amendment. Mr Swoboda then protested against attacks on the Commissioner for Justice and Vice-Chairperson Viviane Reding in the pro-government press. Ms Reding is seen in pro-government circles as prejudiced against the Hungarian government, and even left-wing commentators have found her stance biased on a Hungarian-Irish controversy (See BudaPost, March 28).

Stumpf feels flattered that his paper should be quoted at such an important event, but remarks that as a matter of fact Heti Válasz called Ms Reding “Europe’s bulldog”, which he thinks is less offensive. Otherwise, he continues, the cover story – although not flattering – was not offensive either, and the Socialist MEP should decide whether he is in favour of press freedom only when he feels the urge to criticise the Hungarian Media Act, or if he could also tolerate criticism of a European official by the Hungarian press. Another “famous defender of the freedom of expression”, Stumpf continues, was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a staunch critic of PM Orbán’s alleged authoritarian ambitions, who protested because the speaker gave the floor to Mr Szájer: “That was not what we agreed upon!” In fact, Stumpf remarks, Mr Szájer’s response could be found disturbing by those who would have liked to believe Mr Swoboda’s narrative. Nevertheless, Stumpf emphasizes, Hungarian legislators are certainly not faultless. They have passed “a basketful of unnerving bills”, most of which have ended up in the dustbin, foiled by public opinion, by the Constitutional Court, or revoked as a result of international pressure. A few more still remain in place, the commentator continues, including the definition of the family in the Basic Law. It is problematic not because, as claimed by liberal floor leader Guy Verhofstadt, it does not consider same sex couples as families, but because it even denies heterosexual couples with no common children the status of family.  Stumpf contends that it was the Christian Democrats who insisted on that formula, which will have to be rectified sooner or later. However, he concludes, “this is our own business. We have to put our bad laws right ourselves.”

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