Orban Pledges to Defend Laws Against European Democracy Concerns

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he’ll defend his government’s constitutional changes against European accusations that they curtail judicial authority, escalating a debate about democracy in Hungary.

Arriving in Brussels for a summit of the 27-member European Union, Orban pledged that Hungary’s highest court will continue to be the guardian of the constitution and that he’ll respond to any concerns that the amendments don’t meet EU democratic standards.

“Hungary is always interested in transparency and open discussion,” Orban told reporters today. “We think what we are doing is in accordance with what we call European-ness.”

The Hungarian leader spoke at a news conference he called to address foreign accusations that his government’s efforts to remake the eastern European nation are rolling back democratic freedoms. Orban’s Fidesz party recently used its two-thirds majority in Hungary’s parliament to overturn some court decisions and limit legal interpretations by judges, measures that previously had been shot down by the Constitutional Court.

Orban sent a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel explaining the legislation, saying that the high court still had the power to rule on the constitutionality of legislation.

“It has every power that it needs in order make sure that any laws that are against the constitution, that are not in line with the constitution, that these laws should be amended or annulled. This is a fact,” Orban said. “There can be no debate about this.”

Orban has asserted his influence over independent institutions since winning elections in 2010, drawing criticism from the EU, the U.S. and the United Nations. His lawmakers passed a new constitution over opposition protests, ousted the chief justice of the Supreme Court and set up a media regulator led by ruling-party appointees.

“Our hope is that anything that is criticized by any institution could be disputed in a European way, in a European style, factually, and that we have a chance to provide our arguments,” Orban said.

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