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Hungary awaiting specifics on EU objections to constitutional changes

May 2, 2013 at 12:05 AM   |   Comments

BUDAPEST, Hungary, May 2 (UPI) -- Hungary is awaiting "concrete objections" from the European Commission over controversial changes to its constitution, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi says.

Martonyi said in an interview this week with Hungarian broadcaster Inforadio he's looking forward to the chance to answer specific questions from Brussels on a recent amendment to the country's Constitution, or fundamental law, which critics contend erodes its democracy.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso last month warned Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban parts of the Fourth Amendment to the fundamental law, approved March 11 by Parliament, run afoul of EU standards on the rule of law by undercutting the separation of powers.

Since then, the commission and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe have been scrutinizing the amendment, which could lead to findings of infringement of the EU Treaty by as early as June.

If unresolved, the dispute could ultimately result in the suspension of Hungary's voting rights under Article 7 of the treaty.

The amendment was passed under the supermajority held by Orban's ruling nationalist Fidesz party. It reinstated regulations that Hungary's Constitutional Court had previously vetoed, triggering widespread concern about the erosion of checks and balances in the country.

The amendment has also brought withering criticism from center-left parties in the European Parliament, which accused Fidesz of seeking to establish an authoritarian state.

Martonyi told Inforadio Hungary is at a disadvantage in the court of public opinion because of the lack of specific complaints from Brussels.

The foreign minister said it is difficult to "put up a defense against accusations that are unfounded and general in nature, whereas concrete (objections) can be properly addressed, and so Hungary is expecting a detailed explanation and reasoning from the European Commission about what its precise concerns are with respect to the Fourth Amendment of the fundamental law."

Martonyi dismissed what he called political grandstanding by members of the European Parliament, asserting, "Left-wing parties are attacking Hungary extremely strongly and also wish to make the topic a theme of the election campaign, which means that they are also attacking their own political competitors.

"It is difficult to handle politically and ideologically inspired general accusations."

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told the EP during an April 17 debate Brussels has three main concerns with the amendment.

One provision enables the government to levy taxes on citizens to pay for fines imposed by the European Court of Justice for violating their rights -- in effect, penalizing them twice. Another gives a government commissioner the right to transfer cases from one court to another, which could lead to arbitrariness in the dispensation of justice.

A third provision restricts political advertising during campaigns to publicly owned media in a country where private media has an 80 percent audience share.

Orban last month told Barroso he is ready to cooperate and to "pay full attention" to the European Union's concerns, indicating he has already initiated steps to rectify them while reiterating his personal commitment to "European norms and values."

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