Orban Offers Concessions to EU to Defuse Hungary Concerns

Hungary offered to modify its new constitution to address some of the European Union’s concerns as Prime Minister Viktor Orban seeks to defuse criticism that his consolidation of power threatens the rule of law.

The government will revoke the right of the head of the judiciary to reassign cases and replace a passage that would trigger automatic extraordinary levies in case a court fines the state, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told reporters today, according to an e-mailed government statement.

Orban, who won a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010, rewrote the constitution over opposition protests, ousted the chief justice of the Supreme Court, set up a media regulator led by ruling-party appointees and named allies to independent institutions, including the Constitutional Court bench.

The passage of the fourth amendment to the new constitution in March curtailing judicial authority and limiting campaign ads in private media rekindled criticism of Orban a year before he faces elections.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, in April said it had “serious concerns” over the compatibility of the amendment with EU rules. Germany and three other countries proposed cutting funding to member states that violate the bloc’s democratic values.

Instead of referring to automatic taxes in response to court rulings in the constitution, the government’s draft would add a passage to an existing law to allow the government to impose a levy in case of an “unexpected financial obligation,” the government said. Martonyi said this is a “satisfactory solution” to the EU executive as there is no longer a reference to court rulings, according to the statement.

Advertising Ban

The government is sticking to its election advertisement ban in private media and will extend that to European Parliament elections as well, Martonyi said, according to the statement. Earlier, the government said it would allow such ads for European Parliament elections.

The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on April 25 recommended opening a “monitoring procedure” on Hungary, citing “deep concerns at the erosion of democratic checks and balances.” It said this would be the first time such a monitoring procedure would be opened with regard to an EU member state.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.