The new constitution "threatens European values," Verhofstadt warned in a joint statement with Amnesty International, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Helsinki Committee and other international and national human rights organisations.
The statement, issued on Friday (15 April), represents the latest criticism from Verhofstadt's liberal ALDE group reagrding the new Hungarian constitution, which according to its critics is the brainchild of the ruling Fidesz-KNDP supermajority in the Hungarian parliament.
At a hearing in the European Parliament last month, MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford (ALDE; UK) had already challenged the draft constitution on a range of issues.
The Socialist & Democrats group in the European Parliament has remained remarkably silent on the issue. S&D sources told EurActiv that its leader Martin Schulz wanted no controversy with the Parliament's largest group, the European People's Party (EPP), to help him to secure his appointment as Parliament president in 2012. Fidesz is a member of the EPP.
This time, the ALDE group lists details of the constitution which it says give rise to concern: discrimination which is not expressly prohibited on the grounds of sexual orientation, ethnicity, age and genetic features; the notions of marriage and family which are defined to exclude single-parent families, cohabiting and same-sex couples; and the protection of the life of the foetus from the time of conception, which it says is tantamount to a ban on abortion.
Verhofstadt also voices concern over the prominence that the constitution gives to values such as faith, the community and the nation before the individual, the primary role of traditional families in society and the importance of Christianity in preserving Hungarian nationhood.
The ALDE statement also warns that the new constitution seriously limits the powers of the Constitutional Court, that the administrative autonomy of the judiciary is infringed, and that human rights bodies are abolished and merged.
Hungarian MEPs from Fidesz issued a counter-statement, insisting that Verhofstadt's position was "partial, based on false information" and contained "serious misinterpretations". The new constitution does not ban abortion and does not trigger irredentism, Fidesz MEPs insist.
Not without irony, Fidesz says that Verhofstdat should better have a critical look at his own country, Belgium.
Verhosdadt was for many years prime minister of a country where constitutional rights are much narrower than those set out in the new Hungarian constitution, Fidesz MEPs write.