Much Ado About Nothing? Legal and Political Schooling for the Hungarian Government

After his infamous law against the Central European University, the EU Commission has announced a treaty infringement procedure against Hungary. That will probably be of limited help against the systemic threat to the rule of law in Viktor Orbán’s state. Politically more effective might be the pressure exerted by the European People’s Party.

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The Return of the Sovereign: A Look at the Rule of Law in Hungary – and in Europe

The Hungarian law makers have enacted a law that will make the operation of foreign-funded universities all but impossible, and aim to do the same to foreign-funded NGOs. These measures fail to meet even the most basic features of how legal rules are envisioned in a rule of law framework. The carefully crafted new Hungarian laws use the cloak of national security to stab the rule of law, as understood in Europe, in the heart.

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Legally sophisticated authoritarians: the Hungarian Lex CEU

Contemporary authoritarian leaders understand that in a globalized world the more brutal forms of intimidation are best replaced with more subtle forms of coercion. Therefore, they work in a more ambiguous spectrum that exists between democracy and authoritarianism, and from a distance, many of them look almost democratic. They take advantage of formalistic legal arguments against their enemies. Similarly, the new draft law of the Hungarian government also uses legal tricks to force the Central European University to cease operation in Budapest.

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The Hungarian Constitutional Court and Constitutional Identity

Ever since the 2010 parliamentary elections Hungary has set off on the journey to became an ‘illiberal’ member state of the EU, which does not comply with the shared values of rule of law and democracy, the ‘basic structure’ of Europe. The new government of Viktor Orbán from the very beginning has justified the non-compliance by referring to national sovereignty, and lately to the country’s constitutional identity guaranteed in Article 4 (2) TEU. This constitutional battle started with the invalid anti-migrant referendum, was followed by the failed constitutional amendment, and concluded in early December last year by a decision of the Constitutional Court, in which the packed body in a binding constitutional interpretation rubber-stamped the constitutional identity defense of the Orbán government.

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A Game of Values: Particular National Identities Awaken in Europe

The EU’s legitimacy is thin and this weakness is reflected in its impotence in the face of the drift towards authoritarianism in Central and Eastern Europe. It remains to be seen whether such an authoritarian turn as the Hungarian can happen in old democracies and if their institutions are strong enough to limit the effects of global processes which are shaping the national identities of societies and the impact of Member States on the shared EU framework.

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National Constitutional Identity in the European Constitutional Project: A Recipe for Exposing Cover Ups and Masquerades

On November 8, 2016 the Hungarian Parliament did not adopt the Seventh Amendment of the Fundamental Law seeking to protect Hungarian constitutional identity in the face of European imposition. The Seventh Amendment was meant to cover up the minor scratch on the Government’s pride caused by lack of popular support for its relentless fight against the EU. Although the Amendment did not pass, supporters of European constitutional projects cannot afford to sit back and relax.

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Can Poland be Sanctioned by the EU? Not Unless Hungary is Sanctioned Too

Hungary has announced to block any Article 7 sanctions that the EU might propose against Poland. Why should Poland back down when nothing will come of standing up to the EU? Given Polish intransigence, the Commission may be tempted to stall for time or to retreat, which would be disastrous for the rule of law in the European Union. But the power to levy Article 7 sanctions can be restored. The Commission should do now what it should have done long ago. It should begin by triggering Article 7 (1) not only against Poland, but against Hungary as well.

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The Invalid Anti-Migrant Referendum in Hungary

After an unprecedented and partially illegal attempt to bring Hungarian voters in line against the EU refugee quota, the referendum launched by the government is invalid, as only around 40 percent turned out to vote. This was an own goal made by the Orbán government, which after overthrowing its predecessor as a result of a popular referendum made it more difficult to initiate a valid referendum.

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The Hungarian Constitutional Court’s case with the ECHR: an ambivalent relationship

Hungary was the first country in the post-Soviet bloc that joined the Council of Europe and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and this remains a matter of national pride. While the Convention is perceived as a yardstick in human rights protection that may not be circumvented, still lively debate surrounds the authority of the case-law of European Court of Human Rights. The recent constitutional reform has left the status of the Convention largely untouched. The Convention still enjoys a supra-legislative rank: it is subordinated to the Fundamental Law but is superior to all other pieces of legislation.

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