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International concerns about Hungary’s new Constitution

The Hungarian Parliament passed on Monday a new Constitution for the country. Numerous articles appeared in the international press reporting that the Hungarian government ignored the protests and warnings of civil organizations and opposition politicians that the document might eliminate the system of checks and balances.

The new constitution stipulates that laws on the budget, tax and customs can only be overruled by the Constitutional Court if they violate the right to life, human dignity or certain personal freedoms. These restrictions will be lifted once state debt falls below 50% of gross domestic product (GDP), a requirement specified separately in the new basic law. An existing law on fixing the term of the State Audit Office head at 12 years and extending the chief prosecutor's to nine years from six is enshrined in the new constitution.

A new, three-member fiscal council is handed the power to veto the budget by the constitution. Should parliament fail to pass the budget by the end of March, the president can dissolve parliament. The central government will have controls over local-government borrowing. Changing laws on tax, pensions and the central bank will require a two-thirds majority.

In a quick reaction to the vote, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times published an article where they analyze in details the issues regarding the new constitution, and report about the reaction of civil organizations and opposition politicians in Hungary. The articles highlight that the Venice Commission, the constitutional law advisory body of the Council of Europe, has criticized the document for the lack of transparency of the drafting process and for how it limits the Constitutional Court’s rights to review legislation.

The article of the Wall Street Journal stresses that the Hungarian organization of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights stated that the constitution “undermines democratic political competition and makes political change more difficult by transforming institutional structures; it weakens the system of checks and balances and alters the framework of the political community by extending the right to vote”.

It quotes Hungarian civil liberties union TASz, stating that the new constitution reflects a Christian-conservative set of values, discriminating against those who don’t share such ideas; discriminates based on age and sexual preference; opens the way for a ban on abortion; and cements the current governing party’s political ideas since legislation detailing the implementation of the new constitution will be passed in laws that require approval by a parliamentary majority of two thirds.

In a response to the recently approved Constitution, an article of Forbes magazine emphasizes that the new constitution weakens the power of the Constitutional Court and the head of the National Bank of Hungary, and ties the modification of tax and pension laws to a two-thirds majority. The article reminds that Amnesty International was among several human rights groups that expressed concerns about other points of the draft, calling parts of it “especially disconcerting” - for example lifetime prison sentences without the possibility for parole for violent crimes and a ban on discrimination does not specifically mention age or sexual orientation.

The article warns that the law's protection of the life of a fetus from the moment of conception was also seen as opening up the possibility for a future ban or restrictions on abortion.

An earlier published article of Euractiv remarks that despite the fact that its authors dubbed the new basic document as “a constitution for the 21st Century” the final result appears to be“a eulogy to the country's Christian roots and past greatness”. The article notes that Christianity appears to be the driving force behind the new Hungarian constitution, which stipulates that marriage is a union between man and woman, depriving homosexual couples of the family rights.

 

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