January 31, 2012
18 months, that’s the time it took for the so-called centre-right – call it nationalist – Fidesz government to change a democratic and promising country into an authoritarian one, on the brink of bankruptcy. 359 new laws were passed in 18 months, whose main ones are considered to be unconstitutional. What did the EU do while Orbán was placing his pawns? Sadly nothing, at least not until late December, when it finally opened an eye and decided to take a deeper look at the matter. And by matter, I mean a dreadful resurgence of an authoritarian political party, that received a supermajority at the parliament through fair elections, and that has, since then, simply decided to change the Constitution so as to make sure its legacy will last long. But unfortunately, the reaction of the EU, along with the IMF, may already be too late.
On New Year’s Day, the new Constitution of the former Republic of Hungary (the Fidesz removed from the Constitution the denomination) was adopted, to the great displeasure of the Hungarian civil societies, political opposition parties, the EU along with the European Commission, the IMF, and the US.
So, in what does this Constitution consist of? No need to explain all the 359 laws that passed, but best is to resume the main points that changed and that will deeply affect the people living in Hungary.
The Central Bank Law: along with the creation of a third vice-president, the new law gives power to the government to name the vice-presidents. Hence, the Fidesz will now be able to place its pawns within the institution and thus control the president of the Central Bank. However, due to EU warnings, the Fidesz was forced to withdraw this law. Yet, it created an amendment that will affect the very status of the Central Bank: the Fidesz now has the legal power to merge the Central Bank with another institution so as to create a new agency, for which it will name its president. To sum up, the Central Bank is left with no power.
The Judiciary Law: concerning the Constitutional Court, the Fidesz has ensured to shut it down: the government has expanded the number of judges so as to fill the opening positions with pro-Fidesz partisans; it has also managed to give less power to the Court, especially regarding budget laws. Concerning ordinary judiciary, most judges have been dismissed due to lowering the retirement age, leaving space for new ones, named by the Fidesz. Hence, the government now controls the judiciary, too.
The Taxation Laws: among many, important is to highlight that the Fidesz has created a permanent flat tax of 16%, therefore taxing more the poor than the rich; moreover, it has put in the Constitution an “emergency tax”, that would be used to tax all citizens if the IMF or EU would come to fine Hungary because of its non-respect for European democratic rights.
The Media law: this law allows a new media board to be created, filled with pro-Fidesz members, and has the power to shut down media if there are not conformed to specific norms. Unsurprising coincidence, KlubRadio, the only independent radio station, then saw its license being taken away.
The Law on Religions: this new law cuts down the number of state-recognized religious groups from 300 to 14, thus suppressing subventions for the “non-chosen” ones. Moreover, the Constitution now recognizes Christianity as to be the savior of the nation.
Constitutional Changes Affecting Private Lives: the fetus is now considered to be a living human being, therefore automatically forbidding abortion; as to marriage, it must be between a man and a woman, thus closing eyes on gay rights.
Constitutional Changes Affecting Political Opposition: it is now stated in a proposed constitutional amendment that the former communist party is considered a criminal organization, and that the actual socialist party is the direct legal successor.
Constitutional Changes Affecting Elections: the Fidesz has managed to dismiss the politically-diverse Election Commission, and has replaced the commissioners with pro-Fidesz members, hence making all future elections imbalanced.
So now, what’s next for Hungary? On January 11th, the European Commission held an important meeting with Hungary, regarding the new set of laws and new Constitution. It gave Orbán a one-month delay to amend three laws that are considered to be unconstitutional and contrary to the EU guidelines that all member states have agreed to adopt and respect. If the Hungarian government refuses, the European Commission will be forced to take actions, including suspending the European funds that Hungary desperately needs for its budget.
The future months will hold great uncertainty in Hungary, and it is still unclear where this situation will lead to. Yet, we can be sure of one thing: it is the people of Hungary who will be the most affected if their country were to drastically fall.
« Cécile Viault holds a Master Degree in International Politics from the University of Warwick in the UK, and is a collaborator with ThinkYoung. »