Some background and the Constitutional Court’s statement

The day after the news broke that János Lázár decided to disregard the thumbs-down decision of the constitutional court re the whopping 92% tax levied on amounts over two million forints received as either severence pay or as a retirement package Zsófia Mihancsik, a liberal journalist and editor-in-chief of Galamus, was taken aback that the constitutional court was silent. Most of the time I agree with Zsófia Mihancsik whom I consider one of the most democratically minded, talented and brave journalists in Hungary, but this time I thought that the constitutional court made the right decision. It is better to wait and see what the reaction is. Moreover, although I can't peer into the heads of the judges, somehow I don't think that they expected such a reaction from the government. So, they had to sit down and calmly assess the situation and only then come out with a dignified and well thought out statement. I think they managed to do that.

Before I translate part of the court's statement, let me say a few things about what we are learning about the background of the government's decision. According to some analysts the idea of the 92% surtax was hatched sometime during the summer. At roughly the same time Lajos Kósa–who by the way talks too much although not always in a coherent fashion–said something about temporary constitutional restraints concerning the economy. Some people consider that a sign that there were talks about coming up with such a tax and that the legally trained Fidesz leaders already knew that it would not float in the constitutional court. Hence the Kósa's reference to constitutional restraints on economic issues.

Yesterday Viktor Orbán's personal spokesman Péter Szijjártó tried to make a big deal out of this issue even though there were relatively few people who received substantial benefit packages. Why risk a confrontation with the constitutional court over a rather small amount of money which could easily be handled through the courts on an individual basis? This morning I heard an explanation that sounded logical to me. The Orbán government is planning to fire about 5% of the civil servants. Here the amount of money the government would have to pay by way of compensation would be considerable. They already took one step to reduce the rights of workers. Earlier a civil servant couldn't be let go without reason, but in the first days of the Orbán administration a law was passed that now allows the firing of civil servants without any justification and with only two months' notice. However, these people may be entitled to fairly large severance packages, and when we are talking about thousands and thousands of people the amount the government would have to dole out would be significant. Most likely that's why the government is so desperate to have this legislation passed that it is even willing to have a huge fight with the constitutional court.

As for who knew and who didn't know about the decision. Origo, the Internet paper, has very good connections with high-level Fidesz politicians who are ready to talk. Its journalists seem to know that the Fidesz answer to the constitutional court was Orbán's decision and most likely it was not discussed with too many people. We already know from Péter Harrach (KDNP) that he as head of the Christian Democratic caucus was not consulted. The Christian Democratic chief and deputy prime minister, Zsolt Semjén, also knew nothing about it. Since then in fact Harrach expressed his hope that the bill that was deemed unconstitutional can be modified.

But it seems that even Tibor Navracsics, the more important deputy prime minister of the two, wasn't privy to the decision. According to Origo's informant, Navracsics doesn't like "solutions that can be assailed on constitutional grounds." According to another informant who is a member of the party's top decision-making body, the presidium, there is the likelihood that they will change the bill in such a way that it may pass muster with the constitutional court the second time around.

Meanwhile the opposition is organizing but in typical fashion they cannot put aside their differences. András Schiffer, the leader of the parliamentary delegation of LMP, in an interview with Olga Kálmán that is already available in transcription verbally abused Ferenc Gyurcsány. I understand that László Sólyom had an aversion to Gyurcsány and that András Schiffer has a very close relationship with the former president, but sometimes it's prudent to follow the proverb that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Well, the upshot of it is that LMP refuses to march together with the Hungarian Democratic Charta and Gyurcsány's new Democratic Coalition. They will march alone. I don't want to be a Cassandra but the last time LMP refused to cooperate with MSZP at the Budapest local elections LMP did very poorly. They lost about half of their voters. As it stands now the Democratic Charta will demonstrate on November 2 at 5 p.m. in front of the statue of Imre Nagy. As far as I know Gyurcsány will be one of the speakers. MSZP leaders will also attend, but the party has more grandiose goals and is planning a nationwide demonstration for November 27.

And now, at last, is the constitutional court's statement. András Sereg, the head of the press department of the court, stated that "the preservation of the unaltered legal competence of the Constitutional Court is the guarantee of the Hungarian constitutional order. The Hungarian court's practice of constitutional control of legislation agrees fully with that of other European constitutional courts. There are two requirements the court must keep in mind. The control must be applied to all pieces of legislation equally and those it deems unconstitutional are declared null and void."

As for changing the competence of the court, the institution "would like to call the attention of the government to the fact that the legislative body must consider the possibility of control emanating from the Court of the European Union and the Court of Human Rights on issues that it now wants to take away from the Constitutional Court." This is a court where the great majority of the judges is not antagonistic to Fidesz. To the contrary. Therefore I wouldn't advise Viktor Orbán to antagonize them. It would be bad strategy.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Paul
Guest

Are these demonstrations the first since the election?
If so, how will Fidesz react to them?
After recent events/speeches and reading some of the more purple pro-Orbán comments on here, I fear they won’t just leave them to get on with it.

Paul
Guest

And, while I’m asking questions, can someone give me some background on this “98% tax on over 2 million Ft” business please.
Is this about one-off payments (‘golden handshakes’) or pensions, or what? And is the 2m Ft an annual amount or a monthly payment?
It’s very hard to argue with my manically Orbán-worshiping relatives about this constitutional court business when I don’t understand the background and can’t answer even the most basic of their questions!

pgyzs
Guest
Paul: It is about the golden handshakes, and 2M is the annual amount. Problem is that people who gets above 2m because of their ~30 years (or more) spent at work were also involved. I highly support the tax on the outrageous goodbye sums (but not at the expense of screwing with the constitution, I strongly disagree with that), but this issue (which was pointed out by the constitutional court) has to be addressed. Today’s news are promising about this: http://index.hu/belfold/2010/10/28/megmentenek_a_kozalkalmazottakat_a_kulonadotol/ About LMP, they are making exactly the right call about Gyurcsány. He is a plague to every political ally of him and those of you who wish Orbán to be removed from the office in 2014 should pray that the “leader” of the opposition won’t be Ferenc Gyurcsány. No matter what Orbán does, the people won’t forget the chaos, impotence and corruptness of his regime and for many people, even Jobbik is a much better choice than him (which is a devastating possibility). After all, it would be a suicidal act for LMP to ally with Gyurcsány or the MSZP. If I was at home, I’d probably go to the LMP rally, but not if they joined Gyurcsány. This… Read more »
Hank
Guest

“the legislative body must consider the possibility of control emanating from the Court of the European Union and the Court of Human Rights on issues that it now wants to take away from the Constitutional Court.”
That is all very nice and well, and surely these “tigers in the corner” can be very valuable to upholding democracy in this country, but only and litteraly in the end. These are very, very, very slow operating institutions. Cases brought to EU courts may take years and what if someone then ignores their verdict? It is the same with the EU: sure they are worried, sure they do not trust Orbán’s concept of democracy, but it will take a long time before they will start considering doing anything more than making critical remarks.

whoever
Guest

Eva, this just reflects what a disaster Gyurcsány is politically, a walking car crash of a public figure, and an absolute political ninny of the first order.
The fact he still feels he has to lead ‘from the front’ reflects on a fragile sense of ego and, I am afraid, a desire for revenge akin to that ascribed to Mr Orbán.
Ferenc Gyurcsány could support a number of opposition initiatives quietly, from the sidelines, yet this will never be enough. He forces people to divide on the basis of his own person – and becomes one of the reasons why any united opposition cannot emerge. He’s become the spider in a left-wing web, big enough and ugly enough to make many people recoil. Seriously, someone should have a word with him – but they won’t of course, because he is the boss. Risible approach to politics and I must say, barely a democrat in any shape or form.

cba
Guest

@whoever: yes indeed, its difficult to see any of the existing parliamentary party leaders actually delivering any coherent riposte and/or viable alternative to what is going on right now. Surely it is not setting the bar too high to ask whether there a decent, balanced non-egomaniac democrat out there to expose the idiocy of these people. The words Gordon and Bajnai spring to mind, but then again…

Szabad Ember
Guest

As much as I admire Gyurcsany, I have to agree that he is political plutonium; he’ll never be anything but a divisive figure. I frequently ask Fidesz supporters why Orban Kiraly is still the leader of the party after losing 2 elections, and they always change the subject. If Gyurcsany wants to help Hungary, he’ll stop trying to lead the party and confine himself to writing blogs and checks.

NWO
Guest

As much as I oppose the severance pay tax for the way it was implemented, and I support the Constitutional Court’s decision (one of the few times I can imagine saying this), I would very much welcome a wholesale cutting of civil servants and others on the Govt payroll by 5%. I would prefer to see 10%, but 5% would be a nice start. Sad part is that FIDESZ will likely first target the few competent individuals instead of hacking off the thousands of totally useless civil servants.

Szabad Ember
Guest

On another topic, if Fidesz is desperate to pass a law taxing any payouts to civil servants who have yet to be sacked, why doesn’t it just pass a non-retroactive law with a lower tax (75% is still very high)? I think 2 million forints is also a pretty low threshold. Maybe his aim all along was just to weaken checks and balances, and he using this issue as a pretext, because he knows that the public will be behind any move that recovers money “stolen from the state by the previous, corrupt, regime,” regardless of its theoretical impact on obscure democratic principles (as the average voter probably sees this issue).

Alias3T
Guest

In fairness to Gyurcsany, who does make too much noise, he has stated that it’s most unlikely he’ll ever again be prime minister. And what he does have is the rhetorical toolkit to best Orban in debate. Nobody else has shown that ability, and until somebody shows up who is able to do that, he’ll be hard to replace.
At some point, remember, Orban will have to descend into the arena of public debate again, something he hasn’t really done since being slaughtered by Gyucsany in 2006.

Hank
Guest
“Maybe his aim all along was just to weaken checks and balances,” My thoughts exactely. Because let’s not forget that this isn’t the first time they are changing the constitution to make it suit their preferences and to prevent the Constitutional Court from doing its job. They have done this up to ten times in the past few months and in a few cases the proposal to change the constitution was handed in together with the proposal to change a certain law. So in a way, it is a bit funny that now suddenly everybody is up in arms about Lázárs move, because I don’t see how it is fundamentally different from what they did before. What was different was that they first allowed the Court to say no to the law and then announced very bluntly and within hours (because they knew what was coming) that they would change the constitution to circumvent that, while untill now they did it the other way around. So this also makes me wonder whether this is a set-up in some way? But with what aim? And how well thought out? And one other thing: OV will give us a totally different constitution… Read more »
Alias3T
Guest
Hank, there is no qualitative difference between this and previous moves, but it’s the drip-drip accumulation of moves of this kind that is making the difference. What’s striking is the cumulative loss of faith I’m noticing among my jobb-nemzeti friends: the NENYI was the first blow, then the appointment of Schmitt, then the appointment of a party hack to the Audit Office… and it goes on. None of these things, individually, undermined people’s faith in the goverment, but each time the mumblings grew louder, and this is the first time I’ve seen straightforward party hacks, party appointees in ministries, complaining openly. What it means, I think, is that the government majority will become harder to marshal. There’s now political advantage to be had in being an awkward backbencher with independent positions. Look for that among the KDNP especially. And that bodes ill not just for this amendment – which may or may not pass – but also for the constitution. Assuming this continues, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t, then Orban has either the option of doing deals for constitutional amendments with LMP or Jobbik – which would need a lot of compromise, or he has to do favours… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Alias3T: “And what he [Gyurcsány] does have is the rhetorical toolkit to best Orban in debate. Nobody else has shown that ability, and until somebody shows up who is able to do that, he’ll be hard to replace.”
You may have noticed that I said absolutely nothing on the newly erupted Gyurcsány bashing. Schiffer has been happily assisting Fidesz in the falsification of the events of September-October 2006. He stands by Morvai, Gaudi-Nagy, Balog, Balsai and others. One needs stomach for that and it seems that he has it. Shame on him.

GW
Guest

Alias3T wrote:
“…or he has to do favours for individual backbenchers who would otherwise be waverers.”
I believe that this understates the amount of leverage that Orban has over individual members of his parliamentary party. These are not people who necessarily have good backup employment possiblities should they lose secure list places in future elections and with the complexities (oddities) of the new cabinet structure, patronage and pork belly decisions are largely concentrated in the PM’s office. For FISESZ and KDNP parliamentarians, it’s play or not get paid.

GW
Guest

May I add that Orban’s position as PM vis a vis his parliamentary support is, within Europe, somewhat comparable to that of Berlusconi in Italy, a figure who a long tested the EU’s patience with authoritarian moves. Berlusconi’s own party members in parliament are decidedly without profile or experience other than personal loyalty. Berlusconi has used the office to decided personal advantage and limited any investigation of his activities. Orban’s great advantage over Berlusconi is course the 2/3 support in parliament while Berlusconi has had to play wholesale politics to maintain a fractious coalition (and now, minority government.)

Alias3T
Guest

“These are not people who necessarily have good backup employment possiblities”
This is a good point, certainly. But you don’t need many dissident MPs to fall short of 2/3s. What is it, 5? There must be at least five with other options.

Mark
Guest
Szabad Ember: “On another topic, if Fidesz is desperate to pass a law taxing any payouts to civil servants who have yet to be sacked, why doesn’t it just pass a non-retroactive law with a lower tax (75% is still very high)?” A the end of the day the notion of a redundancy payment – a compensation payment for the breach of an employment contract is protected by EU law, as, I think is the notion that such payments are tax free. Therefore their trade unions can go to get their payment (with interest) through the European Court, and the blunt truth is that there is nothing any Hungarian government can do to prevent that. If we don’t want to see ridiculous compensation payments in the future the way forward is to (a) have proper performance management for people in post, and (b) actually have an open, fair and competitive selection process for all government posts, with appointment based on criteria of professional competence. This would be a huge culture change, but the government has the opportunity to do this if it wants. I didn’t see any sign of it though when they replaced the head of audit office or,… Read more »
Pete H.
Guest

Szabad, “Maybe his aim all along was just to weaken checks and balances, and he using this issue as a pretext, because he knows that the public will be behind any move that recovers money “stolen from the state by the previous, corrupt, regime,” regardless of its theoretical impact on obscure democratic principles (as the average voter probably sees this issue).”
The 92% tax issue may very well be a pretext for weakening the Constitutional Court so that it can not rule on bigger issues like the new taxes on corporations and the pension fund issue. The later two are a huge part of OV’s economic “solution” and the former only a very small and insignificant part of it.

Paul
Guest
Mark – my redundancy was most certainly taxed! (Although, admittedly, not at 98%.) As for GF – every time I mention him or the MSzP to my Fidesz crazed family I am greeted by spittle assisted hails of condemnation. But never by any concrete facts, just broad accusations and general statements. The Fidesz propaganda of the last 8 years has been highly effective. The average Hungarian now ‘knows’ without a doubt that the 8 years under he Socialists, and especially under GF, was a disaster. Unfortunately, that propaganda seems to have worked its spell on many of the posters on here too. Can I request that the next time someone posts something against MSzP of GF, they first pause to consider just how much they know and how much they ‘believe’ because of the poison Fidesz has been spreading for 8 years. And perhaps, when they post, instead of just agreeing with the assumed Fidesz view, could they give some concrete examples of why they consider the MSzP reign to have been so awful (in comparison with what came before it) and why they consider GF to be such a snake in the grass. And Fidesz posters, before you put… Read more »
Bálint
Guest

Gyurcsány is a truly repellent individual, god’s gift to the right in general and antisemites in particular. While I’m not paranoid enough to believe that he’s on the Fidesz payroll, he really might as well be. I don’t know the last time that the author of the blog was actually in Hungary to suggest that LMP – or any other political grouping for that matter – wouldn’t be shooting themselves in the face to be associating with him.

Gábor
Guest
W, Fidesz is hardly the centralized party submitted to Orbán’s will entirely. It is much more complex and Orbán’s real power lies in his charisma and ability to make people believe in him as the only one capable to realize the political aims. However, he is relying on a web of local key figures, controlling their locality/constituency based on their resoruces from civil life. In the process when Orbán sidelined or replaced the old guard of Fidesz he carefully barred them from establishing local bases or made them to choose between national and local political role. (Like Pokorni.) But he had no freedom to chose and install theri replacement, especially as Fidesz needed an institutional network and money to run campaigns. The result was the elevation of these local strong figures, either mayors or businessmen (in the Hungarian sense) who hoped for reward not only in the from of parliamentary seats. They hold the key to Fidesz’s success as they can mobilize voters with compelling them to vote for Fidesz, they chaneled money to the party in various forms and they expected money flowing to them and to their business after victory. It will not happen. (That is the reason… Read more »
Gábor
Guest

Sorry, the previous comment was meant to GW’s comment on Fidesz MPs.

Mark
Guest

Paul: “Mark – my redundancy was most certainly taxed! (Although, admittedly, not at 98%.)”
Sorry, I got unduly carried away – compensation payment are protected from punitive taxation was what I should have written.

Gábor
Guest

According to the decisions of the Constitutional Court punitative taxation is a violation of the constitution per se.

Mark
Guest
Paul: “The Fidesz propaganda of the last 8 years has been highly effective. The average Hungarian now ‘knows’ without a doubt that the 8 years under he Socialists, and especially under GF, was a disaster.” I think before anyone gets too carried away with the old “Gyurcsány can never come back” line, it might be worth reminding those who remember the climate of the 1990 to 1994 period. I used to be told during those years that the MSZP could never come back because they ruined the country; they ran a dictatorship for 42 years before 1990; they made the country economically backward; they never had any support in the first place and ruled by fear. These opinions, for those who don’t remember this period, were expressed in similar terms and with a similar vehemence to those directed against Gyurcsány now. Indeed, I remember someone trying to tell me in the first week on May 1994, in the face of lots of evidence to the contrary how Hungary – because of Communism, and because Horn served the Soviets in 1956 – would never vote for the MSZP the following Sunday. Well, they did ….. I’m not saying Gyurcsány will come… Read more »
whoever
Guest
Paul, it was the tone, as well as the facts behind Gyurcsány’s premiership which struck such a bum note – and not just restricted to the far-right. I’d say that up to a third of left voters developed an antipathy – not least as he failed to act as a responsible politician. The Ószod speech could have been dismissed as drunkenness, if it had not accompanied a huge degree of personal cynicism. Bear in mind that his ascension in 2004 marked a period of fiscal and monetary laxity. In 2006 he won an election on the basis of tax cuts, and having won, set himself up a brave harbringer of fiscal austerity and the privatisation of the social security system, apparently in a way that was SPECIFICALLY designed to enrich MSZP/SZDSZ-supporting businesspeople. So if you see nothing wrong as Politics As Business, you will see nothing wrong with Gyurcsány. Combine demands for austerity – and the positioning of rather false and contrived policy options, hence the famous ‘Nem lehet mas a politika’ speech – with a bizarre infrastructure policy – leading to some enormous, environmentally damaging, wasteful and yet ultimately lucrative schemes, and you just get a slight inkling of… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Balint: “Gyurcsány is a truly repellent individual, god’s gift to the right in general and antisemites in particular.”
In the pay of Fidesz? Gift to the anti-semites? Repellent? Surely, you can’t believe the first. As for the second, what does that mean? He is Jewish? Mind you, in the circles you most likely move everybody is Jewish whom you people don’t like. As for someone being repellent. He maybe repellent to you but not necessarily to someone else.
It would be a good idea to make more intelligent comments. These are too easily assailable.

whoever
Guest
I don’t see the parallel between now and 1990-1994. At all. I think in that period there was more genuine optimism about the prospects for Hungary, and also an initial rush of enthusiasm for democracy. Much of this optimism and enthusiasm was not based on reality, sadly. Few people now would give any credence to the MSZP adopting welfarist policy lines, upon which it relied so much in 1994. As for the MSZP, it has really struggled to bring in young people since 1990, and capable figures of the new generation are very hard to find. Younger career-minded, managerial types exist, but are not especially capable. The MSZP’s roots in Hungarian society are ossified, and every year a dispropotionate number of its supports die. Which sounds bad, but what I’m saying is that there’s no-one who’s really come through. It’s a different scenario now. The majority of young people since 1990, do not want to know the Socialist Party in any shape or form. This generation are now having kids who are set to be equally anti. By ‘screwing up’ so badly ‘again and again’ the leadership of the MSZP, namely Gyurcsány, have tarnished leftist ideas for the forseeable future.… Read more »
Hank
Guest
“the privatisation of the social security system, apparently in a way that was SPECIFICALLY designed to enrich MSZP/SZDSZ-supporting businesspeople.” and “a bizarre infrastructure policy – leading to some enormous, environmentally damaging, wasteful and yet ultimately lucrative schemes.” On both points I seem to be out of the loop, because – even though I do not like the MSzP at all and I know there are as much corrupt people there as there are in Fidesz, I still fail to see concrete examples of these specific issues. What privatization of the social security system? There wasn’t any. What infrastructural projects are you talking about? The motorways? Though there no doubt was corruption there (as there is anywhere in the world), you cab hardly call these “enormous, environmentally damaging” and they have at least put Hungary solidly on the FDI map. Yes, there was a lot of shady stuff at MÁV, BKV, Omninvest maybe, local governments (but then, these were in majority Fidesz in the past four years), but the notion that the Gyurcsány government was the most corrupt of the past two decades is, again, a Fidesz spin. First and foremost, Gyurcsány got the boot because he insisted on painful reform… Read more »
whoever
Guest
“But who knows, when people get fed up with the Great Leader in a few years time, anything is possible again.” That’s the point, because I believe the opportunities for real change in Hungary are now prescribed by the failures and attempts to inflict unpopular agendas in the past. Maybe nothing will be possible in a few years, however fed up people may be. We are not in a period where multiple political possibilities are presenting themselves anywhere and the international economy is dictating events to a far greater extent than you, or Mark, seem to acknowledge. Oh the charge sheet is too long to detail. On social security, the attempted reforms failed under prolonged opposition from various quarters, including Fidesz. On infrastructure, we can just look at the state of the railways, at the buses in Budapest, at the follies such as the 4-6 trams. It goes on and on. But I don’t think what I’m saying is quite sinking in, so I’ll leave it there. Just, once more, that the ‘Austerity Feri’ between 2006 and 2009 hadn’t really cleared the deal with the electorate. The electorate had gone for a flash fellow promising tax cuts, not him. Gyurcsány… Read more »
wpDiscuz