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Europe

Hungary amends constitution despite warning

Amendment to constitution limits court to challenge new laws, provoking protests in Budapest.
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2013 20:33
Members of Hungarian parliament voted overwhelmingly to amend 14-month old constitution [EPA]

Hungary's conservative majority, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has amended the constitution to severely limit the authority of the country's constitutional court, once again charting a conflict course with the European Union.

Monday’s fourth amendment to the 14-month-old constitution limits the ability of the constitutional court to challenge new laws, provoking protests in Budapest and drawing criticism from the opposition, the EU and the US.

The changes passed by parliament, where Orban's Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority, mean that the constitutional court will no longer be able to void a law endorsed with a two-thirds parliamentary majority and enshrined in the constitution.

The constitutional court will now only be able to review and judge future amendments on procedural grounds, not on their content.

The president will no longer have a veto and will be obliged to sign amendments, except when there is an objection on procedural grounds.

Other changes include allowing party political broadcasts only on state media, committing students who receive state aid to remain in Hungary after graduation for a certain period, and a ban on sleeping on the streets.

The amendment also enshrines a definition of the family as "marriage between man and woman", a clause the court previously threw out for being "too narrow" and discriminating against other forms of partnership.

International concerns

The changes sparked concerns in Brussels and Washington. The European Commission and the Council of Europe reacted immediately, saying the amendments "raise concerns with respect to the principle of the rule of law, EU law and Council of Europe standards".

Brussels has clashed with Orban over a whole series of issues, including media freedom and control over both the constitutional court and central bank since the right-wing politician swept to power three years ago.

Washington had also expressed misgivings about the new constitutional re-write, with the State Department saying that it deserves "closer scrutiny and more deliberate consideration".

But Hungary's Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said on Monday that Budapest was acting fairly.

"If anything is contrary to EU law, we will find a solution. In all cases, about whatever, whenever, with whomever, we are ready to talk".

Martonyi told reporters in Brussels that the government would ask the Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe, to give its opinion, state news agency MTI reported.

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