Report of the Venice Commission on the Hungarian Constitution: End of the dance of the peacock?

On March 12 the Hungarian parliament, despite protestations,  passed the fourth amendment to the less than one-year-old Hungarian constitution. The amendment itself was fifteen pages long and incorporated all the objectionable laws that had earlier been part of the temporary provisions. By incorporating them into the constitution proper, the Hungarian government through its super-majority in parliament prevented the Constitutional Court from studying their constitutionality. Earlier the Constitutional Court had found some of these provisions unconstitutional.

When the Hungarian parliament was considering passage of the fourth amendment, prominent EU politicians such as Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, asked them not to move ahead. Angela Merkel personally warned János Áder, who happened to be on a state visit in Berlin, of the possible serious consequences if he signs this amendment to the constitution into law. Yet Áder went ahead and in a speech to the nation tried to justify his action by claiming that he had no other choice. His hands were tied by law. Some people, including former President László Sólyom, earlier chief justice of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, thought otherwise.

Viktor Orbán himself dismissed the criticism that the changes his government had made to the constitution were anti-democratic. “Who is able to present even one single point of evidence, facts may I say, that would be the basis for any argument that what we are doing is against democracy? Just one concrete step,” he told reporters ahead of a summit of  EU leaders in Brussels.

Well, it seems that the five constitutional scholars who were in charge of examining the provisions of the fourth amendment had plenty of evidence to prove that it is “against democracy.” I doubt that Viktor Orbán is as cocky today, after the Venice Commission’s report was mistakenly uploaded to its website ahead of schedule, as he was a day or two after the storm in mid-March. Apparently he told the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary delegation at that time that “the more they attack us the better.” This time around it seems that these “attacks” will indeed have very serious consequences. Every European organization that is involved with the Hungarian constitutional crisis–the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Commission–had been waiting for word from the Venice Commission.

The handwriting was already on the wall in mid-April when the members of the Venice Commission visited Budapest and were handed a fifty-page reply to their criticisms. Róbert Répássy, undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, sensed that “the members of the Venice Commission had already made up their minds.” I’m sure they had. After all, these five legal scholars had been studying the new Hungarian constitution as well as its amendments for over a year.

At this point, János Martonyi, most likely on instruction from above, asked three conservative legal scholars to take a look at the constitution and its amendments. The government was hoping for an endorsement of its position, but even their report, which arrived in early May, was not an unequivocal seal of approval.

Venice CommissionI have only the summary of the report that  Népszava published last night. The original is 34 pages long and is apparently a complete condemnation of the Hungarian constitution as it now stands. (The report was taken off the site once the timing error was discovered.) The members of the Commission (the Austrian Christoph Grabenwarter, the German Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem, the Polish Hanna Suchocka, the Finnish Kaarlo Tuori, and the Belgian Jan Velaers) consider the fourth amendment no more than a “political declaration” that “aims at the perpetuation of the political power of the current government.” The document itself has seven chapters and the objections are summarized in 155 points. Without trying to go into details on the basis of a summary, I’ll skip straight to the Commission’s final verdict. The Commission, unlike in other cases, doesn’t even bother to make suggestions that would perhaps remedy some of their objections. Rather, they indicate that the whole thing is unacceptable. It has to be abrogated. Thrown out.

The limits imposed on the Constitutional Court “have a negative influence on the Council of Europe’s three fundamental pillars: the separation of powers, the defense of human rights, and the rule of law…. The Hungarian constitution cannot be a political instrument…. The fourth amendment perpetuates the problems of the judiciary independence, severely undermines the possibilities of constitutional scrutiny, and endangers the constitutional system of checks and balances.”

Even Gergely Gulyás, Fidesz’s young star and expert on the constitution, admitted that this was a much worse outcome than he himself had anticipated. Naturally, he pointed out all the alleged inaccuracies and wrong interpretations, but I had the impression listening to his interview this afternoon that even he realizes that the Hungarian government doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The government will answer, but I doubt that they are too sanguine about being able to change the mind of the Venice Commission.

And a lot depends on the opinion of the Venice Commission. In the Council of Europe, the members have been waiting for the opinion of the legal experts before they hold a vote on imposing a monitoring procedure against Hungary. The European Parliament will soon vote on the LIBE recommendations.  The Venice Commission’s opinion might sway some members who hitherto have been undecided on the merits of Rui Tavares’s report. And there is the European Commission, whose decision on a new infringement procedure as a result of the fourth amendment has been in limbo, pending word from the Venice Commission. And finally, the legal opinion on the Hungarian political situation as embodied in the new Orbán constitution might tip the scale against Fidesz in the European People’s Party where until now the majority supported Viktor Orbán. After the release of this document it will be difficult if not impossible to stand by a man who uses his power for the perpetuation of his own rule while trampling on the most sacred tenets of democracy.

Viktor Orbán most likely knew a couple of months ago that this is what would happen. He said in one of his speeches that a new attack is under way and that by June Hungary will be the target of an international assault. I guess he has been preparing for the battle. But this battle will be very difficult to win. His opponents are numerous and strong. And the god of democracy is on their side.

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tappanch
Guest

“A Venice Commission spokeswoman acknowledged to The Wall Street Journal that the document was published due to human error and taken off the site after a few hours. The leaked draft doesn’t reflect the commission’s opinion, the spokeswoman said, as the document will be discussed and amended before and at the commission’s plenary session in Venice June 14-15. ”

” A committee of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly recommended in April that Hungary should be subject to monitoring by the council, after the latest changes to its constitution, a procedure usually reserved for new members. If approved, Hungary would be the first established EU country to be subject to such monitoring.

Furthermore, the European Commission is considering legal enforcement action against Hungary, known as “infringement proceedings.” ”

http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20130531-705802.html

petofi
Guest

Ah yes, the EU with the ‘hammer’ in this little game. They threw up a ‘guard’ with letting
the deficit procedure go…but they’ll lower the boom now.

Can Viktor still claim a conspiracy against Hungary after the EU let the deficit procedure go?

An
Guest

I find it a little hard to believe that the leak was just an oversight, a human error. Although the report as it stands is bad news for Fidesz, I think the fact that it leaked early only benefits them. It gives Fidesz more time to prepare their counter-attack, and if the final version is just a tad less critical, Fidesz can claim “victory”. Also, such an error also puts the Commission in a somewhat unprofessional light.

Wondercat
Guest

“Ami magyar az csak jó lehet” — and so much for criticism from Venice, Brussels, and such cattle.

Ms KKA
Guest

petofi :

…Can Viktor still claim a conspiracy against Hungary after the EU let the deficit procedure go?

Your kidding, right? Since when has OV let a little thing like no evidence of a conspiracy deter him from screaming CONSPIRACY from the rooftops?

petofi
Guest

Ms KKA :

petofi :
…Can Viktor still claim a conspiracy against Hungary after the EU let the deficit procedure go?

Your kidding, right? Since when has OV let a little thing like no evidence of a conspiracy deter him from screaming CONSPIRACY from the rooftops?

Scream he might, but the people have noted that the EU is not against Hungary in every case. For those who know a little about the deficit procedure, they might even realize that
Hungary’s use of pension funds weren’t even considered in the mix.

Member

Oh, not again those Jewishgypsyliberalleftistcommunistsupportinghungaryheatingforeignhearted people tricked the Venice Commission too? Just wait for the explanation from Magyar Hirlap on how this is all part of the conspiracy from those who try to take over Hungary for some mysterious reason. Maybe for Hungary’s new soccer stadiums.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Some1 :
Oh, not again those Jewishgypsyliberalleftistcommunistsupportinghungaryheatingforeignhearted people tricked the Venice Commission too? Just wait for the explanation from Magyar Hirlap on how this is all part of the conspiracy from those who try to take over Hungary for some mysterious reason. Maybe for Hungary’s new soccer stadiums.

I have asked a few months ago the 16 year old son of a Budapest acquaintance if he heard in the school the rumor, that Jews or Israel want to buy up Hungary. He said one of the pupils believes that “because we have so much water, the Danube, the Tisza and lake Balaton”. By the way it is not a state school but a private school with high tuition fees.
Systematic madness is propagated by Jobbik politicians and a mass of clueless Hungarians believe it.

Ron
Guest

OT A tweet on the Turkey riots:

You know something’s wrong when citizens have to turn to foreign TV stations to know what’s happening in their own city. #OccupyGezi— Iyad El-Baghdadi (@iyad_elbaghdadi) May 31, 2013

Sounds familiar?

4455
Guest

The collapse of the Soviet Union was not predicted.
Who could think of reversing the Islamization of Turkey?
Perhaps, there are ordinary Hungarians who will fight for the core freedom of the nation.
Will the Finkelstein advised ultra-right-wing plot against the hard won liberal democracy end one day without significant bloodshed?

petofi
Guest

@4455

Tough questions, but I’m afraid you’re thinking with a ‘western mind’–hard won liberal democracy was not ‘won’ at all, but given to them. That is precisely the problem, that the citizenry has not experienced the gradual ‘winning’ of rights, or learned of its obligations that come with democratic life.

For Hungarians, democracy is voting, period. The politicians think the same. After the elections, the electorate is to step aside and let the representatives govern. The question of safeguarding their liberties does not arise. Government members get a free hand and there’s nothing to stand in their way, especially when the media is government controlled.

Hungarians wonder why I’m so upset. Well, the difference is that, having grown up in Canada, I know my rights and the government’s obligations. In Hungary, I feel deprived of my rights and it’s well nigh a physical loss. I suppose it’s akin to ‘having lost all my feathers’. It’s painful.

Member
Karl Pfeifer : I have asked a few months ago the 16 year old son of a Budapest acquaintance if he heard in the school the rumor, that Jews or Israel want to buy up Hungary. He said one of the pupils believes that “because we have so much water, the Danube, the Tisza and lake Balaton”. By the way it is not a state school but a private school with high tuition fees. Systematic madness is propagated by Jobbik politicians and a mass of clueless Hungarians believe it. Now that is interesting as Hungary, contrary to popular belief, not on top for freshwater resources. 9 European countries are ahead of us. Our internal freshwater resources compared to the country’s size is small, and we very much just catch the water from other countries, and from precipitation. Other countries does not rely on our water, except the water that flows through, but we rely on the countries above us for the same… http://goo.gl/txHP2 (Data from the European Commission) The Danube is coming through Austria, the Tisza is coming from the Ukraine Although Lake Balaton is mainly supported by the River Zala (45%) that is totally an internal resource, it would… Read more »
Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Some1 If a politician would suggest here that Israel wants to buy up Austria, people would consider him crazy. Unfortunately many Hungarians would believe any baloney, provided there is something in it about Jews.
Most Hungarians living to day do not know, that after the liberation of Hungary pogroms were perpetrated against surviving Jews, some of them after communist incitement (Miskolc for instance). In Poland it is estimated that during the period after the war more than 1000 Jews were killed.

Member

Meanwhile on Planet Hungary …

CBA the “National” Supermarket Chain stopped selling condoms to people younger than 18. The sign is actually very funny. It says they don’t sell “sexual accessories”. So if you need a ball gag or KY jelly you are out of luck.

http://most.444.hu/2013/05/31/fiatalkoru-vagy-es-ovszert-vennel-a-cba-ban-nem-fogsz

This is gotta be the work of the FIDESZ dermatologist/gynecologist mafia. They will make a ton of money on high schoolers if this becomes a law.

Member

Karl Pfeifer :
Some1 If a politician would suggest here that Israel wants to buy up Austria, people would consider him crazy. Unfortunately many Hungarians would believe any baloney, provided there is something in it about Jews.
Most Hungarians living to day do not know, that after the liberation of Hungary pogroms were perpetrated against surviving Jews, some of them after communist incitement (Miskolc for instance). In Poland it is estimated that during the period after the war more than 1000 Jews were killed.

Woww. To be honest, I did not know that either, and I though that I am very well-versed in the subject. The only reference I found now is about Kunmadaras. Is that what you were referring too? I feel that last year references in the Hungarian Parliament tried to stir up the same sentiments as caused Kunmadaras. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Member

Mutt :
Meanwhile on Planet Hungary …
CBA the “National” Supermarket Chain stopped selling condoms to people younger than 18. The sign is actually very funny. It says they don’t sell “sexual accessories”. So if you need a ball gag or KY jelly you are out of luck.
http://most.444.hu/2013/05/31/fiatalkoru-vagy-es-ovszert-vennel-a-cba-ban-nem-fogsz
This is gotta be the work of the FIDESZ dermatologist/gynecologist mafia. They will make a ton of money on high schoolers if this becomes a law.

Maybe this is how Orban tries to solve the declining birth rate of Hungary. Next thing will be that only government contracted outlets can sell condoms and such, or maybe traffiks will be only outlets that can sell them with the tobacco.

Ms KKA
Guest

petofi :

Ms KKA :

petofi :
…Can Viktor still claim a conspiracy against Hungary after the EU let the deficit procedure go?

Your kidding, right? Since when has OV let a little thing like no evidence of a conspiracy deter him from screaming CONSPIRACY from the rooftops?

Scream he might, but the people have noted that the EU is not against Hungary in every case. For those who know a little about the deficit procedure, they might even realize that
Hungary’s use of pension funds weren’t even considered in the mix.

Aye, but there’s the rub…the people who have noticed are the people who have access to the information in the first place. And, I fear that this is a very small part of the folks living in Hungary – certainly not enough to make a difference in the upcoming election. If everyone in Hungary only had access to this blog, the problem would be solved, or never have happened in the first place.

LwiiH
Guest

4455 :
The collapse of the Soviet Union was not predicted.

I’m not so sure. Regan seemed to be speculating that the Soviets would not be able to withstand another round of defence spending. I could be wrong but it’s my understanding that Gorbachev was also convinced that the Soviets wouldn’t be able to keep pace because they were already falling behind even though defence spending was already at an unsustainable rate of 20% of GDP. In fact, I took a quick look and found http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_the_Soviet_Union#Collapse_of_the_Soviet_Union_and_the_military

4455
Guest

My dear Petofi –
I grew up in the confused Hungary. The nation was forced into submission, old wounds were open. I had to leave. I transplanted myself surgically into West Germany. Into the instant freedom.
The people who stayed in Kadar’s Hungary, could not understand the difference between a freedom of the West and being in a minimum security prison.
Living in the West WAS A GOOD LESSON.
We may count on the 2nd-3rd generations after WWII to reject the Horthy – Thormay bubble with the finality.
Orban-Finkelstein count on the opposite.
Good luck to all of us to find the freedom.
4455

Karl Pfeifer
Guest
Some1 : Karl Pfeifer : Some1 If a politician would suggest here that Israel wants to buy up Austria, people would consider him crazy. Unfortunately many Hungarians would believe any baloney, provided there is something in it about Jews. Most Hungarians living to day do not know, that after the liberation of Hungary pogroms were perpetrated against surviving Jews, some of them after communist incitement (Miskolc for instance). In Poland it is estimated that during the period after the war more than 1000 Jews were killed. Woww. To be honest, I did not know that either, and I though that I am very well-versed in the subject. The only reference I found now is about Kunmadaras. Is that what you were referring too? I feel that last year references in the Hungarian Parliament tried to stir up the same sentiments as caused Kunmadaras. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Some1 : Karl Pfeifer : Some1 If a politician would suggest here that Israel wants to buy up Austria, people would consider him crazy. Unfortunately many Hungarians would believe any baloney, provided there is something in it about Jews. Most Hungarians living to day do not know, that after the… Read more »
Guest

A bit OT re the water in Hungary:

Right now a bit too much water is coming in from Austria …

We just watched it on German and Austrian tv.

My sister and her husband who are very interested in history will be visiting us soon – they just phoned that they cancelled their hotel reservations in Vienna, Budapest, Szentendre and Györ – maybe no chance to take a walk there …

They wanted to follow the Danube on its way with all those wonderful old towns, castles etc …

So they’ll be staying with us first and then we’ll see …

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