Amid growing concerns that the Hungarian government has taken
steps to centralize power and weaken democratic principles in the
country, a growing movement in the European Union is considering
what should be done to keep Hungary in line.
On Monday, the latest set of amendments to the Hungarian
constitution - the fourth set since its passage in 2011 - came into
effect, having been pushed through by Prime Minister Viktor Orban
and his conservative Fidesz party's two-thirds majority in
Critics say the new amendments erode the authority of the
Constitutional Court, which overturned several Fidesz-backed laws in
recent months. Hungary has also clashed with the EU regarding
changes to the country's media laws and the independence of its
Last week, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the
changes in judicial independence in Hungary were "very worrying,"
according to Dow Jones. The Hungarian government responded by
stating on its website that Ms. Reding was "waging private war
Curtailing the Constitutional Court?
Reding is not alone, however, and critical voices from the EU
have been increasing. European Commission President Jose Manuel
Barroso also expressed concern and spurred the Council of Europe
(CoE), an independent human rights organization, to investigate
whether the amendments conform to EU law.
The amendments limit the Constitutional Court's ability to refer
to its own rulings prior to January 2012, when the current
constitution came into effect, thereby effectively cutting a large
portion of established legal decisions out of the country's law.
Instead, the amendments restrict the court to only reviewing
amendments to the constitution based on procedural requirements,
rather than substance.
"There is nothing to be concerned of," says Jozsef Szajer, member
of the European Parliament (MEP) from Fidesz. Mr. Szajer says the
amendments are "not curtailing the powers of the Constitutional
Court but expanding it" by giving the court the ability to determine
if new amendments follow proper constitutional procedures.
Hungary welcomes the review of the CoE, he says, but
constitutional affairs of member states should be respected by the
But CoE spokesman Panos Kakaviatos said in an email that his
organization was concerned that the amendments include provisions
that were previously rejected by the Constitutional Court, as this
"could endanger the fundamental principle of checks and balances in
a democracy." By incorporating the provisions into the constitution
itself, Fidesz effectively does an end run around the court,
realizing the changes that the court rejected as undemocratic.
The results of the CoE's review are expected to be released in
EU institutions have shown varying degrees of political will to
act on Hungary. The Commission has been relatively cautious in its
criticism, while MEPs have been more vocal.
"The Commission is after all a neutral arbitrator," says Agnes
Batory, public policy professor at Budapest's Central European
University. "They cannot act in an overtly political way, as opposed
to party groups within the European Parliament. …