Germany leads EU criticism of Hungary reforms

Latest clash between Brussels and Prime minister Orban

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech during a business conference in Budapest. Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech during a business conference in Budapest. Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

 


Germany is leading a chorus of international criticism of Hungary ’s decision to change its constitution and restrict the power of its highest court, in the latest clash between the EU and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

Hungary’s parliament, which is dominated by Mr Orban’s centre-right Fidesz party, approved amendments on Monday that had been struck down by the constitutional court and denounced by the EU, US and rights groups.

A spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel said that when she met Hungarian president Janos Ader yesterday, she “made the case once again for the responsible use” of the Hungarian government’s two-thirds majority.

“The concerns of Hungary’s Eu ropean partners and friends, for example over the restricting of the constitutional court’s competencies, must be taken seriously.”

After “a frank and at times quite contentious exchange of views” with Mr Ader, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle admitted he was “concerned about these latest developments in Hungary”.

“It is important that every country in the EU understands that we belong to a community of values,” he added.


EU law
A European Commission spokesman said that if Hungary was found to be in breach of EU law, the bloc would use all instruments at its disposal to force compliance. He said the European Commission was assessing whether the constitutional amendments “are in line with EU laws and EU values”.

“I cannot give a timeline at this point . . . but if the assessment confirms our concerns, we will then engage in discussions and dialogue with the Hungarian authorities.”

Hungary was not discussed at yesterday’s General Affairs Council in Brussels, chaired by Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, despite calls from some states for it to be on the agenda.

Mr Orban has regularly locked horns with the EU since taking power in 2010. Brussels and Washington have accused him of undermining democracy and concentrating a dangerous amount of power in his own hands. Mr Orban rejects those claims, saying he is modernising Hungary in line with his mandate and sweeping away the vestiges of communism.

Under Monday’s changes, the constitutional court and Hungary’s president will only be able to veto future amendments on procedural grounds, not on their content.

The court will also be barred from making decisions based on rulings made before January 1st, 2012, when a new Fidesz-designed constitution came into effect – in effect invalidating decades of case law.