EU Calls on Hungary to Heed Concerns Rule of Law Concerns

The European Commission stepped up pressure on Hungary over Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s consolidation of power, calling on the government to heed its warnings about the erosion of the rule of law in the nation.

“Based on a first legal analysis, the commission has serious concerns over the compatibility” of the most recent constitutional amendment with the 27-nation bloc’s laws and values, the European Union executive said in a statement today. Once the legal analysis is finalized, the commission said it will take steps “where relevant” to start infringement procedures against Hungary, which could lead to a court case.

Lawmakers last month backed a constitutional amendment to curtail judicial authority, limit campaign ads in private media, restrict the definition of a family to marriage and allow the criminalization of homeless people who live on the streets, all of which the Constitutional Court has vetoed in past decisions. The move underscored concern for the rule of law and checks and balances in Hungary, where Orban wields a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

“I strongly appeal to you and to your government to address these concerns and to tackle them in a determined and unambiguous way,” European Commission President Jose Barroso said in a letter to Orban, according to the commission statement.

The showdown with the EU threatens to affect Hungary’s finances after the foreign ministers of Germany, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands last month pushed to impose EU funding cuts on member states that violate the bloc’s democratic values.

Independent Institutions

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. Last month, Orban named Gyorgy Matolcsy, his former Economy Minister, to head the central bank.

The European Commission’s concerns include “the clause on European Court of Justice judgments entailing payment obligations, the powers given to the President of the National Office for the judiciary to transfer cases and, subject to a more detailed analysis, the restrictions on the publication of political advertisements,” according to today’s statement.

The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, which is on a mission to Budapest today, will prepare an opinion on the fourth amendment in June, according to the statement. Barroso “expects that the Hungarian authorities will take due account of this opinion and address it in full accordance with both European Union and Council of Europe principles, rules and values.”

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