EU threatens Hungary with legal action over constitution

Viktor Orban Brussels march 2013.jpg

The European Commission intends to take legal action against Hungary over amendments made to its constitution, the EU executive has said, raising doubts over whether the changes were compatible with EU law.

The EU, the United States and human rights organisations have accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of using constitutional amendments to limit the powers of Hungary's top court and undermine democracy in the former Soviet satellite.

In a letter to Orbán on Friday (12 April), European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that, based on a first legal analysis, Brussels had serious concerns over the compatibility of the constitutional changes with EU legislation and the rule of law.

Once it has completed its legal analysis, the Commission "will have to take the necessary steps in order to start infringement procedures where relevant," Barroso told Orbán.

He appealed to the prime minister, the leader of the nationalist Fidesz party, to "address these concerns and to tackle them in a determined and unambiguous way."

Orbán has dismissed criticism that the constitutional changes are anti-democratic and last month challenged EU legal experts to present evidence if they had any problems.

EU officials see the changes as part of a series of steps taken by Orbán's government that they say have undermined democratic accountability. Other measures include restrictions on press freedom and the enforced retirement of judges.

Following a general election held in April 2010, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that voters had carried out a "revolution" by giving his party Fidesz two thirds of the seats in parliament to rebuild Hungary after a near financial collapse. Fidesz is affiliated to the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest political group in the European Parliament.

A new Hungarian constitution was passed in April 2011 without much debate. It was severely criticised by civil liberties groups and the Socialist and Liberal European political families, for being contrary to EU norms and values and for strengthening the Fidesz one-party rule.

However, the EU commissioner responsible for institutional relations, Maroš Šef?ovi?, who is affiliated to the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES), said in July 2011 that the new Hungarian constitution does not raise issues of compatibility with European Union law. 

  • 17 April: European parliament to hold debate on Hungary and democratic freedoms
  • June: European Parliament to adopt a political resolution on "the situation of Fundamental Rights in Hungary: standards and practices"

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