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No referendum on the Paks nuclear deal

July 11th, 2014

A liberal commentator criticizes the Constitutional Court for blocking a referendum on the extension of the nuclear power plant at Paks, referring to a constitutional ban on referenda over issues stipulated in international agreements. He believes previous rulings prove the court wrong. His conservative colleague approves the ruling but call for clearer legislation on referenda and public debt.

In Népszabadság, Miklós Hargitai claims that in the past the Court allowed referenda on matters pertaining to international agreements, despite an explicit constitutional ban on such votes. The 2004 referendum on dual citizenship and the 2008 one on tuition and hospital fees were such instances, he believes. (The court argued that the question to be put to the popular vote would have directly challenged the Russian-Hungarian agreement on the financing of the new nuclear plant- see BudaPost, January 16th). According to the liberal pundit, the Court should have applied another constitutional ban instead – the one forbidding any increase in the public debt rate as long as the existing debt exceeds 50 percent of the GDP. In Hargitai’s view, the current decision suggests that any unconstitutional measure can be implemented if embedded within an international treaty.

On Mandiner, Beáta Bakó remarks that the Constitutional Court did not undertake a substantive scrutiny either of the referendum initiative or of the nuclear pact itself, it just concurred with a previous ruling of the Kúria on the same issue. But even if it had entered into the details of the matter, the conservative pundit thinks, it would have reached the same conclusion about the referendum. Not only would it touch upon commitments codified in international treaties, but it would also decide on an issue directly related to the national budget, which is also illegal under the Basic Law. Bakó, however, recognizes the conflict between the nuclear pact and the constitutional article on the level of public debt, and therefore urges a substantive constitutional review. She also believes that the Court should define a substantive threshold regarding international commitments in order to clarify when a referendum can be held and when it cannot.

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