March 15, 2013
Hungarian lawmakers on Monday overwhelmingly (265-11) approved a long amendment to the constitution which threatens democratic checks and balances. The biggest opposition party, the Socialists, boycotted the vote. The bill enshrines in the constitution policies that were previously struck down as unconstitutional by Hungary’s highest court. Among other things, it curtails the independence of judges, it wipes out 20 years of jurisprudence by banning the court to refer to rulings given while the previous constitution was in force, a law requiring students who received state scholarships to work in Hungary for years; a prohibition on political campaigns in private media; and a law allowing local authorities to fine or jail homeless people living on the street.
The New York Times quoted a very worried Peter Hack, a leading professor of constitutional law at ELTE University in Budapest: “We are not yet North Korea, but this amendment is extremely alarming because it removes constitutional control and checks over the legislature. It is a bald and dangerous power grab.”
Europe losing soft and hard power
It looks like PM Victor Orban and his Fidesz party are prepared to take on the whole European Union (EU) in trying to transform Hungary into an authoritarian state. If Orban succeeds in his plans, this will not only harm the Hungarian people and economy, but also the ‘European project’. The EU has already lost lots of economic power and prestige because of the Great Recession and even before that its military/hard power was not at all commensurate with its economic and historical heft. This has translated into critical assessments of Europe’s power in the world. The European Council on Foreign Affairs wrote in February on publishing its yearly European Foreign Policy Scorecard: “Yet again the euro crisis has eroded Europe’s image, soft power and capacity to pursue its interests on the world stage.”