The Council of Europe and Hungary

Because of the apparent confusion over the makeup of European organizations that have looked into issues concerning Hungary, I thought that I would write about some of the most important ones.

First, the Council of Europe (in Hungarian Európa Tanács) with headquarters in Strasbourg, France. It was established in 1949, originally by ten European nations, but by now it covers practically the whole continent. The Council currently has forty-seven members.

Before a country is admitted it is subjected to a thorough investigation to determine whether it adheres to the democratic principles that are based on the European Convention on Human Rights. This investigation is called “monitoring.”  I may add here that if the Council of Europe’s plenary session decides to monitor Hungary in October, it would be the first time that such a procedure is launched against a country that is already a member.

The Council’s decision-making body is called the Committee of Ministers; it is made up of the ministers of foreign affairs of each member state. It is this body that decides Council of Europe policy; it approves its budget and the program of its activities.

The deliberative body of the Counil is the Parliamentary Assemby (PACE). Its members are appointed by the national parliaments of each member state. If a decision is rendered against Hungary, it will be this body that will make the call.

Another body of the Council of Europe that we hear a lot about is the European Court of Human Rights. Hungary is currently at odds with this court, which is the supreme legal body in Europe. Its decisions are final.

The background of the controversy is as follows. According to Hungarian law, with the stamp of approval of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, wearing a red star is illegal. A few years back a member of the Hungarian Workers’ Party challenged the law and took his case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The decision came down in his favor and the Hungarian socialist-liberal government had to pay a few thousand euros to the plaintiff.  But the Hungarian government didn’t change the law; it simply paid the fine.

So another communist party member challenged the law, and again the case ended up at the European Court of Human Rights. As was expected, the court decided in the favor of the man. However, the Orbán  government refuses to pay the 6,000 euros to the plaintiff. That is apparently a first in the history of the court. Only a couple of days ago an undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice with a law degree announced with a straight face that the government will not pay because the Hungarian Constitutional Court considered the law constitutional. He ought to know that the European Court of Human Rights’  decision overrules contrary opinions by the constitutional courts of the individual members.

The latest nonsense is the suggestion by Mária Wittner (Fidesz, but would fit better with the Jobbik delegation) and Bence Stágel (KDNP) that MSZP should pay the member of the Workers’  Party the six thousand euros!

But in case anyone thinks that the court is biased against the current Hungarian administration,  just today it ruled on an old case from 2007. Two men hung dirty laundry on the cordon around the parliament building without first announcing their intention to the police. The Court didn’t accept the Hungarian police’s defense and awarded 1,500 euros to the two men. We will see what the answer of the Orbán government will be in this case. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government will refuse to pay the fine because after all the incident occurred during the previous administration.

The Secretary General  of the Council of Europe is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly for five years on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers. The current secretary general is  Thorbjørn Jagland, former prime minister of Norway. The Secretariat is a large body of 2,000 permanent employees coming from all 47 member states.

And finally, let us consider the Venice Commission and its relation to the Council of Europe. The full name of the commission is European Commission for Democracy through Law; it is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters. Established in 1990, it has played an important role as an independent think-tank. It also provides advice and criticism to nations adopting new constitutions. That’s why Hungary ended up in a serious conflict with the Venice Commission. It meets four times a year–in March, June, October and December–in Venice. It is composed of “independent experts who have achieved eminence through their experience in democratic institutions or by their contribution to the enhancement of law and political science.” The members are senior legal scholars well versed in constitutional and international law.

All Council of Europe member states are also members of the Venice Commission in addition to some countries outside of Europe. The Commision has 58 full members in all.

Hungary actually asked the Venice Commission to take a look at the new Hungarian Constitution, but when the Commission presented a 30-page critique of the document in March the Hungarian government brushed aside their recommendations. The question of the new constitution is still in limbo as are many other issues centering around European expectations about democratic norms. The full report of the Commission can be read here. And it is certainly worth rereading Professor Kim Scheppele’s article on Paul Krugman’s blog in The New York Times. Hungary’s troubles with the Council of Europe are far from over.

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nyaripal
Guest

“Before a country is admitted it is subjected to a thorough investigation to determine whether it adheres to the democratic principles that are based on the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Putin must laugh every time he thinks about this.

nyaripal
Guest

“if the Council of Europe’s plenary session decides to monitor Hungary in the next few weeks”

MTI thinks it won’t happen until October:

http://www.politics.hu/20120612/council-of-europe-to-decide-in-october-on-hungary-monitoring/

Paul
Guest

Identity restored! Many thanks to those who answered my cry for help on yesterday’s article.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Thank you Eva for this excellent article,
I do not know what the European Court of Human Rights can do, if Hungary does not respect a judgment. Most countries respect their judgment. However Hungary goes against this court, against the UE and the IMF.
“Though this be madness, yet there’s method in’t.”

Guest

Hmm, I’m sure Louis will find a missing comma or something similar in this description (thanks, Eva, btw!) so he can quote some really interesting people from … on this.

Guest

London Calling!

Wolfi – I don’t think so!

You did such a comprehensive totalisation (‘totalled’!) on his last herring rouge – with your ‘Cardinal war dates’ – that he will go quiet for a while as he usually does.

When he’s been caught bang to rights (QED’d) he doesn’t have the intellectual rigour to follow up.

(There are quite a few follow-ups that have been left hanging as you know!)

Regards

Charlie

Odin's Lost eye
Guest

CharileH Sorry “Cardinal war dates” © Odin’s Lost Eye. But let Wolfi take the wrath of Louis

Ron
Guest

Please find a more schematic diagram of the EU Council via Wikipedia.

comment image

tigerente
Guest

Thank you, Eva. The article clears some doubts I had about these organizations.

Petofi1
Guest

Good article, Eva. Squarely places Hungary in opposition to the committees it has signed on to.
How Can Orban continue to declaim Hungary’s ‘Democracy’ when he’s in opposition with most
of those groups you’ve mentioned? Where are the Political Science professors of Hungarian
Universities to question him in articles? (Yes, yes, I know…cowering under their beds!)

Odin's Lost eye
Guest

Professor you reported that** “The latest nonsense is the suggestion by Mária Wittner (Fidesz, but would fit better with the Jobbik delegation) and Bence Stágel (KDNP) that MSZP should pay the member of the Workers’ Party the six thousand euros!” **.
This establishes an interesting precedent – The Party who is in power at the time or who passed the law is responsible for the fines/compensation/damages in the European Court of Human Rights and perhaps the European Court as well. That is an idea to conjure with! You even take the idea back to the individual(s).
Yes I will agree with that. But what does this do to the new Fidesz’s law which says that all fines/compensation/damages costs etc shall be shared by peoples of Hungary. I wish I could get the details of that law. If used properly this data could stir up the ‘Mulligatawny’ to a fabulous extent.
I wonder if the ECHR has the rights of ‘Contempt of Court’ as failure to pay a fine is exactly that.

AlexG
Guest

Dear Eva – thank you for a very informative and well written blog. Can you tell me where you found the info that CoE will decide on monitoring procedure against Hungary in the next coming weeks? There has been some confusion in various news sources as to whether this will happen shortly, or as nyaripal suggests, in October.

Member

OT; A seventy year old man was brutally beaten, punched and kicked a few hundred meters away from the Great Synagogue (Europe’s largest synagogue) in Budapest while they were throwing racial slurs at him because they supposed that he is Jewish.
In the last few weeks there were several anti-Jewish attacks, not only in Budapest but in other Hungarian cities also.
Because of the Orban government support of anti-semite actions, its glorification of , its rehabilitation of nazi and fascist ideology supportive figures and writers, its non-actions against clear insults against various races even in the floor of the Hungarian Parliament, anti-semitism is and racial intolerance is striving in Hungary.
It is not only that this awful government’s impotence is slowly killing the Hungarian economy but now they will have to face the decline of tourism in Budapest as no tourists in their right mind would be visiting Hungary if the news will get out, and it will!

Louis Kovach
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :I heard a conversation with Gábor Harangozó who is a member of the Council of Europe but I checked just now some written sources and Paul is right about the October date. I will change the date in my text.

Louis Kovach
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :I heard a conversation with Gábor Harangozó who is a member of the Council of Europe but I checked just now some written sources and Paul is right about the October date. I will change the date in my text.

So you have tried to dismiss my correction of your dates based on “hearsay”? Congratulation on the historical sources.

Tyrker
Guest

Some1 :
A seventy year old man was brutally beaten, punched and kicked a few hundred meters away from the Great Synagogue

That story – at least in the form you described it – has turned out to be a lie propagated by RTL Klub. According to index.hu, the TV station took an old story from several months ago, and “warmed it up” (probably in an attempt to improve the ratings of its news programme), completely misrepresenting the facts in the process. Apparently what really happened was that a 58-year-old man suffered a physical attack in Kertész utca (a somewhat seedy part of town that is in fact quite far from the synagogue) about 1.5 months ago. As the victim happens to be Jewish the attack is still being reported as a racially aggravated offence, though given all the lies surrounding the story, I wonder if he really was insulted because of his religious affiliation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a possibility that the man was attacked on account of being Jewish (though I wonder how they knew!) – but it’s by no means a certainty.

Member
Tyrker : Some1 : A seventy year old man was brutally beaten, punched and kicked a few hundred meters away from the Great Synagogue That story – at least in the form you described it – has turned out to be a lie propagated by RTL Klub. According to index.hu, the TV station took an old story from several months ago, and “warmed it up” (probably in an attempt to improve the ratings of its news programme), completely misrepresenting the facts in the process. Apparently what really happened was that a 58-year-old man suffered a physical attack in Kertész utca (a somewhat seedy part of town that is in fact quite far from the synagogue) about 1.5 months ago. As the victim happens to be Jewish the attack is still being reported as a racially aggravated offence, though given all the lies surrounding the story, I wonder if he really was insulted because of his religious affiliation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a possibility that the man was attacked on account of being Jewish (though I wonder how they knew!) – but it’s by no means a certainty. Yes, I just read that, but let me clarify a few… Read more »
Member

Louis Kovach :
So you have tried to dismiss my correction of your dates based on “hearsay”? Congratulation on the historical sources.

Because your information (wrong by the way) was a cold hard fact … like a Google result. Kovach, you are pathetic.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

I just have seen ATV news. It is a 59 year old man who was attacked by 6 young men because he is Jewish and the spokeswoman of the police Judit Pap has confirmed that police started procedure.

Guest

London Calling!

Humble Pie

Sorry Odin! Sorry Wolf!

Seems I was wrong too – Kovach must be on something nasty

Regards

Charlie

(Btw Eva – I accept the non-nesting decision! – But it’s really made a pig’s ear of the chronology of the previous posts! – All the fun of the blog!)

Paul
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
I heard a conversation with Gábor Harangozó who is a member of the Council of Europe but I checked just now some written sources and Paul is right about the October date. I will change the date in my text.

Paul wasn’t “right”, I wasn’t arguing either way, just reporting what MTI said. (I naturally assumed they were wrong!)

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