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“Hungary must preserve the rule of law”

05.03.2013 - Interview

In an article for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 5 March 2013, Minister of State Michael Georg Link calls on Hungary to demonstrate that it has an effective system of checks and balances based on the separation of powers.

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It was the courage of our friends in Hungary that made possible Germany’s historic moment in 1989, when they cut the first hole in the Iron Curtain in Sopron. Since then at the latest, there has been a very special quality in relations with Hungary. Hungary’s joining the EU and NATO was, for us, not just the right thing to do, it was also a matter of the heart.

We cannot be indifferent when we see Hungary’s government criticized for its conception of the rule of law and political culture. The accusations are aimed mainly at the fashion and speed with which the new constitution was worked out and at proposed laws on media freedom, data protection and the reformation of the judicial system. In this situation, Hungary has agreed to enter into dialogue with the European Commission, the Council of Europe and other international organizations. Important aspects have quite rightly been corrected, and Hungary’s constitutional court has also achieved important corrections.

On top of this, there have been tensions between Hungary and international financial institutions and questionable constraints placed on foreign companies. That may aid budget consolidation in the short term, but discriminating against foreign companies will prove to be a boomerang. Legal certainty is a prerequisite for entrepreneurial activity.

Equally cause for concern is the proposed laws affecting the authority of Hungary’s constitutional court. Critics accuse the government of wanting to weaken the court because it has declared previous government plans to be unconstitutional. Many of these proposals are now to be integrated into the constitution. In addition, if in future the constitutional court is only allowed to check the form and not the content of the constitutional law produced by this procedure, it would be losing important responsibilities.

A constitutional court must be independent, in line with the principle of the separation of powers. The judges demonstrated this independence when they rejected parts of the controversial law on the media. It is all the more surprising that there is now a new initiative to limit the freedom of speech, ostensibly to protect Hungary’s national dignity. It is to have constitutional status and would not be subject to oversight by the constitutional court. Is this the government’s attempt to undermine judgments of the highest court that it does not like?

Whether or not this assessment is correct, any impression of calling into question the principle of the separation of powers must be avoided. I hope that Hungary’s parliament will fulfil its responsibility when dealing with the draft legislation.

What happens now? It is not the media’s fault that Hungary is being criticized in the media. As a friend of Hungary, I hope first that Hungary will continue to demonstrate that it has an effective system of checks and balances based on the separation of powers. An active parliament where the opposition’s voice can be heard is necessary, as is a confident constitutional court with appropriate authority. Second, I hope that the two-thirds majority upon which the government rests will be used judiciously. Having a two-thirds majority does not mean one has carte blanche. The government also draws its strength from its responsibility for the integrity of constitutional order and the inclusion of democratic forces from inside and outside parliament as well from the democrats’ united stand against the anti-Semites of Jobbik. Third, I hope that Hungary will accept the suggestions of the European Commission and the Council of Europe.

Hungary is and will remain an essential member of the European family. Our European values, which we together spread around world, must also be maintained at home. Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s initiative to strengthen Europe’s core values also promotes this idea. We need practical instruments on the EU level to deal with undesirable developments that damage the foundations of our shared values. This must apply to all members of the EU, both old and new.

Like every member state, Hungary is master of its own cultural identity, but the national identity we inherit is complemented by the identity based on shared European values as the EU grows closer together. In his speech on Europe, Federal President Gauck transformed this political credo into a call for making shared European values part of our lives. The rule of law is the most important of them. Its ability to flourish must not be hindered.

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