Hungary’s critics should check their facts

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Before liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt calls for Article 7 of the EU treaty to be applied against Hungary, he should check his facts, Enik? Gy?ri says in a commentary submitted to EURACTIV. 

Enik? Gy?ri is the Hungarian state minister for European Affairs.

“I’ll get the papers and go home – sang Louis Armstrong, anno 1968. Anno 2013, Guy Verhofstadt gets the papers – and reads them, too. To read the papers and keep abreast of events would be a commendable ambition for any citizen. Alas, in the case of Verhofstadt, leader of an important political group in the European Parliament, more demanding standards apply.

It appears that, after reading a handful of papers talking about democracy being under renewed threat in Hungary, he got so upset as to add his own contribution under the impulse.

Unfortunately, instead of relying on sound evidence coming from the institution best placed to deliver them – which, perhaps unlike journalists rushed to produce sensational headlines for tomorrows paper, Verhofstadt could have and should have waited – he makes pronouncements about Hungary buzzing with factual errors.

What he does is symptomatic of a widespread political attitude: accusations based on hearsay rather than on facts and arguments.

Verhofstadt and his fellow critics have been denouncing the Hungarian Constitution in general and now the so-called fourth amendment to the Constitution in particular. But there is nothing really new out there in the first place; for there is hardly anything of what worries them which had not been scrutinised by the competent national and European institutions and revised, if found necessary, by the Hungarian parliament.

We have a spotless track record: the Hungarian government and parliament have complied with all rulings of both the European Court of Justice and the Hungarian Constitutional Court on the media law and the status of the judiciary, and we have adapted our laws on the basis of recommendations from the Venice Commission in the past.

Now, paradoxically, this is exactly what Verhofstadt and others hold against us: for it was the Constitutional Court and not Orbán’s government that obliged the Hungarian legislature to resolve the problems posed by the ‘transitional acts’ in the Constitution, leading to the adoption of the so-called fourth amendment, the centre of the present controversy.

Then there are the new rules on churches, decried as ‘limiting freedom of religion.’ Yet in fact, the rules in no way interfere with freedom of religion or the pursuit of religious activities – they merely deal with the procedure for conferring preferential fiscal status on religious communities by the parliament – subject to review by the Constitutional Court. (By the way, the reference is the German model of religiöse Körperschaften des öffentlichen Rechts.)

But the critics certainly hit bottom when they complain about the powers of the Constitutional Court being ‘radically curtailed’, when in reality they are extended from no power to review constitutional amendments at all to the ability to repeal them for procedural flaws.

The complaints are egregious not only because it would be so simple to verify their truthfulness, but also because in the vast majority of member states, Constitutional Courts have even less power – if they exist at all, that is.

And while the zeal of our critics – like Verhofstadt who repeated the same well-known accusations on Wednesday in the European Parliament – to see the Hungarian government sentenced without a trial remains unchanged, so does our commitment to abide by the rules of the family of democratic European nations, especially when faced with such serious allegations.

Thus, the Hungarian foreign minister has requested the opinion of the Venice Commission on the fourth amendment to the Constitution, and the implementing legislation necessitated by the Constitution were drafted by the government in full compliance with the relevant EU standards. We abide by the European rules. We wish our critics did the same.

I admit that all this is complex, technical stuff. It would take an extra effort from anyone to file through the documents let alone to check the allegations against the reality on the ground.

Our predicament today is that opinionmakers often talk and write more than they read. Sometimes they don’t even read what they talk about.

Of course, it would be unfair to accuse Verhofstadt of general ignorance. He is a man of fine literary tastes, an avid reader of the late Hungarian writer Sándor Márai. But it would be time for him and his camp to catch up on the Hungarian Constitution and the related legislative texts.

It is a less entertaining reading than Márai, I’m afraid. But it may prove useful for him when he gets the papers next time and decides to pronounce himself on Hungary.”

Subscribe to our newsletters