19 September 2022

How to Deal With Evil Law in Hungary and Elsewhere

The Hungarian authoritarian regime that arose in the populist wave of societal processes accompanying the 2008-2009 economic and financial crisis has created a legal system in Hungary which is flawed and compromised in numerous ways. But is it valid? Can the law this regime put into force be accepted as law at all? It appears that, with a few exceptions, the debates on restoring constitutionalism have not addressed this issue in depth. This article intends to demonstrate that the Hungarian legal system does indeed lack validity. To argue my point, I am using a simple formula that is easy to articulate and has symbolic meaning for practice in dark times. Continue reading >>
11 Juli 2022

Will the Commission Throw the Rule of Law Away in Hungary? 

The Hungarian government is publicly saying that it is nearing a deal with the European Commission to unlock the Recovery Funds that have been withheld because the Commission has not yet approved Hungary’s plan for spending those funds.    Apparently, Hungary has agreed to four conditions that will allow the €7bn worth of grants and about €8bn in low-interest loans to be approved.  But if those are any indication of the price that the European Commission will extract for comprehensive violation of the rule of law, the European Commission is making a colossal mistake. Continue reading >>
18 Juni 2022

The Role of Referenda in Orban’s Regime

Following the parliamentary elections and the national referendum in April 2022, the OSCE found that the legal framework was inadequate for the conduct of a democratic plebiscite. Even though the observers noted several shortcomings of the legal regulation and documented many serious anomalies of the electoral system, they failed to put their analysis in a broader political and legal context. The aim of this short piece is to briefly describe the role that the referenda play in Orbán’s regime. Continue reading >>
02 Juni 2022

Competition and Conditionality

On 5 April 2022, just two days after the Hungarian national elections, the European Commission formally announced that it would apply the conditionality mechanism enshrined in Regulation 2020/2092 in relation to Hungary. In the past the Commission has frequently addressed issues related to “systemic irregularities, deficiencies and weaknesses in public procurement procedures”. In Hungary, however, it has not probed the enforcement of competition (cartel) law in public tender procedures. The Commission should seize the opportunity to act in this area. Continue reading >>
26 Mai 2022

Illiberals of the World Unite in Budapest – Yet Again

Despite their strong localist and nativist inclinations, traditionalism does not turn illiberal democrats and autocrats against international cooperation, and their political ambitions do not halt at disrupting the operation of supranational organizations. Rather, they use both ad hoc opportunities and a regularly recurring annual events for networking. What marks these occasions is the careful selection of trusted participants based on strong personal connections, along shared values across different religions and continents. Continue reading >>
19 Mai 2022

What Culture Wars Hide

The American Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC) is meeting in Budapest on 19-20 May. The meeting signals that US conservatives have chosen Hungary as proof of concept for the politics they want. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is proudly illiberal and proudly politically incorrect. Having won his fourth consecutive election in April with his largest parliamentary majority yet, Orbán demonstrates to American conservatives that his brand of politics can triumph. Continue reading >>
10 Mai 2022

Never-Ending Exception

The planned 10th amendment to the Hungarian constitution aims to rewrite the current rules of Article 53, which allows the government to declare a state of danger (and rule by decree as it did during the last two years) in the event of a natural or industrial disaster endangering lives and property, or to mitigate the consequences thereof. According to the proposed new rules, the government will also be able to declare this kind of emergency ‘in the event of armed conflict, war or humanitarian catastrophe in a neighbouring country’. This is just the latest chapter in the story of the democratic and rule-of-law backsliding in Hungary. Continue reading >>
10 April 2022

From Shrinking to Closing Civil Society Space in Hungary

In a classy late Friday dump, on April 8, 2022, the National Election Commission fined over a dozen Hungarian civil society organizations for illegally interfering with the referendum held on election day (April 3, 2022). These NGOs ran a month-long campaign encouraging voters to cast invalid votes in response to the government’s referendum question. Altogether the fines add up to 24.000 EUR: the leaders of the campaign, Háttér Society for LGBTQI rights and Amnesty International Hungary were fined approx. 8.000 EUR each. The NEC found that encouraging voters to cast invalid ballots amounts to an abuse of rights, as it defeats the purpose of exercising popular sovereignty through a popular referendum. Continue reading >>
07 April 2022

The Blame for Defeat and the Morality of Politics

The increased support of Fidesz by the majority of voters, who casted votes on 3 April despite Orbán’s immoral stance towards Putin’s war, and also these voters’ little appreciation of freedom and almost none for limiting power, raises the question whether, besides the autocrat, the opposition, and the elite, we cannot blame also the ‘people’ for the opposition’s defeat and Fidesz’s victory. Continue reading >>
06 April 2022

Why They Win

It is difficult for us to acknowledge that populist illiberalism is successful and, until it is confronted by a serious economic crisis, cannot be replaced by elections. That, however, seems to be the case, at least in a society where there is little appreciation for freedom and almost none for limiting power. Let us at least be honest with ourselves: such electoral victories can hardly be explained by anything else. Continue reading >>
04 April 2022

Why We Lost

The united opposition in Hungary has suffered a crushing defeat at the parliamentary elections yesterday. Some of my friends and acquaintances will blame for the outcome the new electoral rules produced by Viktor Orbán’s government, and his high degree of control over electronic and printed media. They will be wrong, as they often were before. We lost! And by numbers that completely falsify the electoral rule thesis, that suggested in all its versions that the rules give Fidesz 3-5 % advantage. Continue reading >>
18 März 2022

How to Set Aside Hungarian Cardinal Laws

The anti-Fidesz coalition could win the next Hungarian elections. That, however, is only one step on a long path back to a full democracy. Fidesz has skilfully entrenched its power, personnel, and policies. How could a new majority overcome this, align the Hungarian legal order with European standards, and allow for democratic governability? Continue reading >>
01 März 2022

Constitutional Complaint as Orbán’s Tool

The re-regulation of the ex-post review competence and the introduction of the “full” constitutional complaint in 2012 provided a good justification for the Constitutional Court to shift its focus from the control of the legislature dominated by the illiberal Fidesz government to the supervision of the judiciary. However, the justices have not remained simply deferential. They proactively helped to repurpose the constitutional complaint and convert a fundamental rights protection mechanism into a tool reinforcing the government’s interests. Continue reading >>
22 Februar 2022

Not looking up

It now seems that after the ruling is before the ruling. The Commission is intent on continuing with its wait-and-see approach, a situation which Hungarian MEP Katalin Cseh compared to the Netflix movie “Don’t look up”, in which the President of the United States decides to ignore the huge comet approaching the earth. While in the movie the comet finally destroys the planet, the European Parliament, however, is determined not to let it come to that. It has made clear that it will not tolerate this policy of looking the other way and has taken up arms. Continue reading >>
17 Februar 2022

In Defense of Its Identity

The introduction of rule of law budgetary conditionality, as approved by the Court, is a first step in the right direction. But the Union must go further. Taking a page from fundamental rights and anti-discrimination law, we suggest the systematic, deliberate, and transparent incorporation of rule of law considerations into all Union policies and practices at all stages, from planning and legislation to execution and enforcement, with the aim of actively promoting, realizing, and sustaining the rule of law throughout the Union. Continue reading >>
16 Februar 2022

No More Excuses

Sitting as a full court, due to the exceptional importance of the case, the Court of Justice has dismissed the annulment actions brought by the Hungarian and Polish governments against the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation. A non-exhaustive account of the main substantive issues addressed by the Court. Continue reading >>

Mutual (Dis)trust

Last week, the General Court of the European Union, in its judgment T-791/19 Sped-Pro, recognized for the first time the impact that systematic rule of law deficiencies have on national competition authorities. The judgement is seminal, in that it openly questions the ability of national authorities impacted by rule of law backsliding to effectively enforce EU law. The judgement also goes to the heart of explaining the pivotal constitutional role played by competition law within the EU legal order. Continue reading >>
24 Dezember 2021

Removing the Cement from Hungary´s Constitutional Edifice

It seems to me that we are asking two questions: First, is Hungary´s constitutional system so damaged that it no longer reflects the core tenets of democratic constitutionalism? My short answer is, yes, but the case needs to be made comprehensively. The second questions is: Could the current constitution be repaired although it is set-up to impede repair? My short answer is: It depends on the post-election context and we should not jump too easily to leave the current legal framework. Continue reading >>
23 Dezember 2021

Why Throw a Constitution out of the Window Instead of Making it Work?

If the constitution-making and amending by Fidesz with their legally obtained two-thirds majority counted as illegitimate, constitutional revision with a simple majority cannot be acceptable. If the sudden redesign of institutions gave reason for serious concern eleven years ago, it cannot be welcomed now. Continue reading >>
22 Dezember 2021

Handle with Care

I will, in what follows, seek to answer the overarching question of this symposium, starting from a cautionary Romanian rule of law (RoL) reform tale. Other things being equal, its lessons may be extrapolated to the specific case of hopefully post-Orbánite Hungary. The specific context of Hungary presents, at least apparently, the Romanian problem in reverse, namely, the transition from an authoritarian nationalist regime to a pluralist, European, rule of law order. Continue reading >>
21 Dezember 2021

Escaping Orbán’s Constitutional Prison

Backsliding democracies around the world all face the problem of how to restore the rule of law. Precisely because it is already embedded in European law, with deep Hungarian roots that have long honored European traditions and its international law obligations, Hungary has the option of simply embracing European law to provide a legal path back to the rule of law Continue reading >>
16 Dezember 2021

Governance or Revolution?

The call from Andrew Arato and Andras Sajó starts an important and timely debate. It is indeed a thorny question in which cases a formal breach of constitutional norms is the only way to restore constitutionalism. I make three claims: First, while the potential opposition government’s legislative power will indeed be constrained, it will not be entirely powerless. Second, many of these constraints do not stem from constitutional provisions per se, but from informal practices within constitutional organs, and thus cannot be addressed by only formal constitutional changes, revolutionary or otherwise. Third, in the present situation a calculated formal breach of the constitution will most likely lead to civilian strife, political paralysis and radicalization. It will also have the potential to destabilize the European Union. Continue reading >>

Chekhov’s Gun

On 9 November, the Fidesz-majority in the parliament passed an amendment on the registration of permanent addresses in Hungary, which allows to register a permanent address without actually living there. In addition, creating a fictional address will no longer be a punishable crime, as the parliament also modified the Penal Code by deleting this specific case from the provisions of document falsification. This legislative step opens the floodgates of voter tourism for the Spring parliamentary elections creating legal but unfair and undemocratic possibilities for winning the most competitive Single Member Districts. Continue reading >>
15 Dezember 2021

Full Steam Back

On 10 December 2021, almost exactly five years after its infamous Identity Decision, the Hungarian Constitutional Court was expected by the Government to declare the ECJ Judgement C-808/08 to be contrary to Hungary’s constitutional identity. But as a big surprise for many, the Court dodged the conflict and avoided to offer arguments against the supremacy of EU law to the Hungarian Government. Unlike Poland, it has only just prevented a full-blown conflict with the EU. Continue reading >>
14 Dezember 2021

Restoring Self-Governance

Sometimes, probably often, the new anti-authoritarian majority will not be large enough to satisfy the requirements of the nation’s amendment rule for constitutional change. What can be done under those circumstances? One possibility, of course, is simply to push through constitutional change without regard to the pre-existing amendment rule. Sometimes that will be enough. Sometimes it won’t – particularly where the idea of legality has powerful political support. Where simply bulling ahead with constitutional change seems unlikely to be productive, what can be done? The answer, I believe, combines foundational constitutional theory and practical political reality. Continue reading >>
11 Dezember 2021

How to Return from a Hybrid Regime to Constitutionalism in Hungary

Revolutionary proponents of instant radical solutions are offering Jacobin moralist arguments about the evilness of the old legal system and enthusiastic political slogans about a bright future under the new Constitution, but they are staying silent about the most likely outcome of their plans: massive armed violence. Continue reading >>
09 Dezember 2021

“La légalité nous tue”

It is not out of question that the united Hungarian opposition will obtain Parliamentary majority in 2022, but a constituent supermajority of two thirds remains wishful thinking. Winning the election will not result in actual governmental power. The Fundamental Law was a nice opportunity to purge constitutional institutions. Is another round of purge inevitable with the restoration of the rule of law? The dictates of necessity offer an unappealing perspective and textbook constitutionalism is not prepared for dirty reality. Continue reading >>
26 November 2021

The Sanctity of Preliminary References

A national supreme court must not declare a request for a preliminary ruling by a lower court unlawful on the ground that the referred questions are irrelevant and unnecessary for the original case. This has been held by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in its important decision C-564/19 IS. In addition, the CJEU held that EU law also precludes disciplinary proceedings from being brought against national judges on the ground that they made a reference for a preliminary ruling. The case also raises important questions to what extent preliminary rulings can be effective against rule-of-law decline and make up for political EU institutions’ failure to use adequate EU tools of supervision and enforcement. Continue reading >>
17 November 2021

Restoring Constitutionalism

How to restore constitutionalism and the rule of law is a somewhat neglected problem among constitutionalists. Thanks to forthcoming elections, some countries like Hungary where “democratic backsliding”  has taken place, may have the opportunity to restore the rule of law. Is a democratic community bound to follow constitutional rules of dubious democratic nature? Or can these be replaced in violation of legality, for example in an extra-parliamentary democratic process? If so, under what conditions? We call on constitutionalists to provide answers to these questions and formulate alternatives between the two extremes of legality and paralysis, possibly involving an element of illegality, but compensating for this by dramatic increase of democratic legitimacy. Continue reading >>
11 November 2021

(Il-)Legal Gymnastics by Poland and Hungary in EU Border Procedures

This week, Poland has made headlines yet again for dispatching 12,000 guards to the border between Poland and Belarus and the use of tear gas to prevent third country nationals (TCNs), including children, from crossing into Polish territory. It is acutely problematic that Poland has foregone any semblance of conformity with EU law at all in the adoption of its domestic legislation on border procedures. Continue reading >>
14 Oktober 2021

A Closing of Ranks

On 11 and 12 October the Court of Justice of the European Union sat in Full Court composition (a rarity) to hear Hungary’s and Poland’s challenge of the legality of the rule of law conditionality regulation. Its ruling will follow (hopefully shortly) the Advocate-General’s Opinion announced for 2 December 2021. It will most likely reconfirm that the Union legal order is based on clear and binding rule of law norms, and that these must, of legal necessity, apply across all EU policy fields, including the EU budget. It will be a judgment of great significance about the very nature and purpose of the EU. Continue reading >>
14 Juli 2021

Human Rights As Hate Speech

On 15 June 2021, the Hungarian Parliament passed Act no. LXXIX of 2021 which pursued a homophobic and transphobic agenda, curtailing the rights of LGBTQI people. The law was received with unprecedentedly harsh criticism, to which the Hungarian government responded in a resolution, adopted on 6 July. In it, human rights arguments are dismissed as a form of Western indoctrination. Continue reading >>
02 Juli 2021

So that the Name Hungarian Regain its Dignity

We believe that the replacement of the Fundamental Law is necessary, with a rule of law constitution that restores freedom. The new document should be one created by a democratic constituent power according to newly enacted rules, making every effort to avoid civil war and its usually accompanying violence. In its process of drafting the role of the 1989 round table can be a model, even if we cannot count on the acceptance of its new constitutional draft by 2/3 of the parliament elected in 2022. Continue reading >>
29 Juni 2021

Oblique Strategies

On June 25, 2021 Hungary’s two top judges – the president of the Constitutional Court, Tamás Sulyok and the chief justice of the Kúria, András Varga Zs. – warned attendants of a conference on the Fundamental Law of an impending constitutional coup. They were addressing the nation’s legal elite – including the speaker of the Parliament, the Minister of Justice and the Prosecutor in Chief – on the premises of the Kúria. The guardians of the Fundamental Law activated the language of militant democracy ahead of the 2022 elections. Continue reading >>
25 Juni 2021
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Attack on the Rights of LGBTQIA+ People in Hungary: Not Just Words, but Deeds as Well?

On 15 June, the Hungarian parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to pass legislation that, in essence, and under the pretext of protecting minors, bans images or content that depicts or ‘promotes’ homosexuality or trans-identity from the public space. The new law adds to a long list of measures already adopted by Hungary over the past several years, that also have the objective of discriminating and stigmatising the LGBTQIA+ population. These measures moreover are part of a wider context of deliberate erosion of liberal democracy in Hungary. The European Union's toolbox reveals its limits here. Why, therefore, not turn to the Council of Europe, with its European Convention on Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights? Continue reading >>
28 April 2021

Solving the Copenhagen Dilemma

By proclaiming an entirely new ‘non-regression’ principle in EU law based on the connection between Articles 49 TEU (EU Enlargement) and 2 TEU (EU values, referred to from Art. 49), the Court of Justice achieved huge progress in addressing a well-known lacuna undermining the EU legal order. The ‘non-regression’ principle is a new important direction in the notable fight for the EU rule of law started with the discovery of EU competence in, in particular, the area of judicial independence and the organization of the judiciaries in the EU Member States. Continue reading >>
20 April 2021

Jeopardizing Judicial Dialogue is Contrary to EU Law

On 15 April 2021, AG Pikamäe delivered his opinion in the IS case, originating from a Hungarian criminal proceeding against a Swedish national. The national judge referred three questions for preliminary reference to the CJEU, one regarding the suspect’s right to translation and two regarding the general status of judicial independence in Hungary. As a reaction, the Hungarian Prosecutor General initiated a so-called “appeal in the interests of the law” and the Hungarian Supreme Court held the reference to be unlawful. Continue reading >>
06 April 2021

A Nation (Un)Dignified

The recent jurisprudence of Hungarian apex courts based on changes inserted into the Hungarian Fundamental Law of 2011, and the provisions of the 2013 Civil Code on “violating the dignity of the Hungarian nation” set a dangerous precedent that could be broadly applied against critics of the government, aka the EU’s first electoral autocracy. The present blog post critically analyses a judgment of the Hungarian Supreme Court (Kúria) of March 2021, which is highly likely to produce a chilling effect. Continue reading >>
11 März 2021

Hungary and the Pandemic: A Pretext for Expanding Power

A year ago, the first lockdowns were introduced in Europe. Since then, European governments have been busy introducing COVID-19 containment measures, including social distancing rules and mask mandates. For two months, they have been vaccinating the people. Ostensibly, the EU countries have taken similar steps. This piece provides a sketch of how the Hungarian government has handled the pandemic. Continue reading >>
05 März 2021

Gewinnen durch Verlieren

Viktor Orbán könnte nächstes Jahr abgewählt werden. Aber das heißt noch lange nicht, dass jemand anders an seiner Stelle regieren kann. Continue reading >>

Winning by Losing

Viktor Orbán could be voted out of office next year. But that does not mean that someone else can govern in his place. Continue reading >>
25 Februar 2021

The EU Parliament’s Abdication on the Rule of Law (Regulation)

To paraphrase a previous blog entry by Scheppele, Pech and Kelemen, if the The Decline and Fall of the European Union is ever written, historians will conclude that not only the EU’s two key intergovernmental institutions – the European Council and the Council – should bear the greatest responsibility for the EU’s demise, but also the EU Parliament. Indeed, by failing to challenge the legality of the EUCO’s December conclusions encroaching upon its own prerogatives, the EU Parliament might have just become an enabler of the ongoing erosion of the rule of law across the Union. Paradoxically, it did so after relying on incomplete and partial opinion of its own legal service advising the Parliament to trade the respect of the rule of law away for political convenience. Continue reading >>
08 Februar 2021

Between Rule of Law and Reputation

On 27 January, Frontex announced the unprecedented decision to suspend its activities in Hungary. The choice to withdraw the Agency from Hungary is not a clear, serious, and meditated move in the Commission’s action for the rule of law. Nor is it a sign of a coherent and firm intention to put an end to the Agency’s engagement in human rights violations at EU borders, since it keeps operating in other frontline Member States with equally problematic issues. It rather represents an attempt to remedy the already compromised reputation of Frontex. Continue reading >>
05 Februar 2021

Loyalty, Opportunism and Fear

The pressure on universities and academic freedom in Hungary is increasing. With a reform program initiated in 2019, the government has started to restructure universities, from a state-funded to a privately-funded model. At the end of the current round of restructuring in 2021, there will be more private universities than public ones. While universities officially have to request their privatisation to start the process, it is clear that the aim of the reform is to forcefully reduce the independence of universities. In January, a number of universities were given an ultimatum until the end of the month to decide on their transformation. Continue reading >>
22 Dezember 2020

Ein Freund, ein guter Freund

Der Kompromiss mit den Regierungen Ungarns und Polens bezüglich des Rechtstaatsmechanismus hat eine Menge – berechtigter - Kritik erfahren. Das Appeasement von Regierungen, die gegen die Grundwerte der EU verstoßen, ist zwar in der Logik der Institutionen und des politischen Handelns in der EU tief verwurzelt. Aber die zahme deutsche Reaktion auf die Eskapaden der ungarischen Regierung hat durchaus strukturelle Gründe, die weit über die Logik der EU-Entscheidungsprozesse hinausgehen. Der perpetuierte Empörungsloop über das ungarische Regime in deutschen Feuilletons und Polit-Talkshows, an dem regelmäßig auch Regierungspolitiker teilnehmen, verbirgt die Realität: Nämlich, dass die deutsche Regierung, und vor allem die deutsche Wirtschaft, sich längst mit dem ungarischen Regime zum gegenseitigen Interesse und Nutzen arrangiert hat. Continue reading >>
21 Dezember 2020

Still Waters Run Deep

That lawsuits taken by a Hungarian human rights NGO can reach the CJEU swifter than those launched by the Commission is clear evidence that strategic litigation and determined advocacy can move mountains. At the same time, this is also a cause for great concern. It speaks volumes of the Commission’s reluctance to promptly and effectively go after a Member State that deliberately ignores and breaches EU law. Continue reading >>
14 Dezember 2020

Towards an EU Cast in the Hungarian and Polish Mould

It is a serious achievement on Hungary’s and Poland’s part to drive EU institutions so far into mocking the rule of law in the spirit of defending it. Then again, this is exactly what illiberal constitutional engineering is about: using familiar constitutional and legal techniques for ends that subvert constitutionalism and the rule of law. Continue reading >>
13 Dezember 2020
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Compromising the Rule of Law while Compromising on the Rule of Law

Some EU leaders may assert that EU money will now be brought under the rule of law given that the Conditionality Regulation is now guaranteed to pass. But they are wrong. Continue reading >>
04 Dezember 2020

Klagen und klagen lassen

Über Mitgliedstaaten, die Mitgliedstaaten verklagen, und andere aktuelle Rechtsstaatlichkeitsthemen Continue reading >>

Sue and Let Sue

On member states taking member states to court, and other topical rule of law affairs Continue reading >>
23 November 2020

Die Rückkehr der Jedi-Ritter?

Könnte man die finanziellen Covid-Hilfsmaßnahmen außerhalb des rechtlich-institutionellen Rahmens der EU vereinbaren – ohne Polen und Ungarn? Die Geschichte der europäischen Integration ist immer wieder von intergouvernementaler Zusammenarbeit jenseits des bestehenden Primärrechts vorangetrieben worden. Für die vorliegende Problemlage erscheint eine intergouvernementale Lösung zwar rechtlich möglich, sie erweist sich indessen aus nicht-rechtlichen Gründen als unbefriedigend. Continue reading >>
20 November 2020

The Commission’s Al Capone Tricks

In its judgement dealing with the Central European University, the CJEU had to employ a trick to address the rule of law issue at stake: It found that Hungary had violated the General Agreement on Trade in Services. The legal trick was succesful but in reality, the ruling came too late. The Central European University has moved to Vienna and will not return to Hungary. Continue reading >>
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So It Goes – Part II

This week, the Hungarian and Polish governments vetoed the critical elements of the European Multi-Annual Financial Framework and Recovery Fund that required the unanimous consent of European Union Member States. Prime Minister Orbán had been threatening this veto ever since the European Commission proposed to link the distribution of these funds to comply with the rule of law. The Brussels veto this week coincided with a domestic legal blitz in Budapest as a major constitutional amendment, and a flurry of new laws and decrees appeared all at once. The two legal events are related. Continue reading >>
19 November 2020
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So It Goes – Part I

The Hungarian government is now so routinely using unconstitutional emergency powers to circumvent constitutional constraints that one must conclude that the government’s main aim is to govern outside the very constitution that it wrote for itself a mere decade ago. At this point, it seems irrelevant whether this limitless power is achieved with or without the declaration of a constitutionally authorized state of emergency. Government unconstrained by the constitution in Hungary has become the norm and not the exception. Continue reading >>
18 November 2020

A New Chapter in the Hungarian Government’s Crusade Against LGBTQI People

On 10 November 2020 - the same day the Hungarian National Assembly authorized the Government to rule by decree for 90 days in the state of danger - the Minister of Justice submitted a whole package of legislative reforms. Among them, the Ninth Amendment to the Fundamental Law of Hungary. Two proposed amendments would directly detrimentally affect the rights of the LGBTQI community, which, we argue, would make it extremely difficult to deconstruct the institutionalized trans- and homophobia which the government has been further entrenching for years. Continue reading >>
12 November 2020

Power Grab in Times of Emergency

In the late hours on 10 November, the National Assembly adopted an Enabling Act authorizing the Orbán cabinet to govern by decree for 90 days, even though the executive already had very broad legislative power due to the introduction of the medical state of emergency. The ink was barely dry on the approval of the delegation of extraordinary legislative power to the government, when the Minister of Justice introduced several bills on important legislative reforms, such as the Ninth Amendment to the Fundamental Law and changes to the electoral system. Continue reading >>
10 November 2020

A game hacked by the dealer

There are many ways a government can undermine judicial independence, even without explicit legislative action. One of the most effective ways is to makes sure that the ‘right judges’ will get the important cases. At the Hungarian Kúria, the case allocation system clearly violate international standards. Continue reading >>
08 November 2020

Of Asymmetries, Aspirations and…Values, too

How are the transnational legal order (“TLO”) and transnational governance affected by the democratic backsliding, authoritarianism and populism? As painfully evidenced by the Polish and Hungarian cases, the system of governance and constitutional design of the European TLO have been in error of “normative asymmetry”: transnational authority to ensure that the states remain liberal democracies has not been effectively translated into the transnational law and remedies. In order to make the TLO more responsive to the democratic threats, however, it is crucial to take on the challenges that go beyond institutional and procedural tinkering. Continue reading >>
13 Oktober 2020

The Last Days of the Independent Supreme Court of Hungary?

Ordinary courts seem to have remained the last bulwark of individual freedom and the rule of law since the Fidesz government has successfully undermined other nominally democratic institutions, including the Constitutional Court. While the recently published EU Rule of law report discusses the problems of judicial independence in great detail, so far, ordinary courts have resisted political pressure relatively well, largely because of the ruling party’s failure to capture the professional leadership of the judiciary. Various legislative changes by the government in recent years coupled with the upcoming election of the Supreme Court’s new Chief Justice, however, could be fatal to the independence of Hungary’s entire justice system. Continue reading >>
08 Oktober 2020

Finally: The CJEU Defends Academic Freedom

The CJEU’s judgment against Hungary in the CEU case is the first major judicial pronouncement by a European court on the institutional dimension of academic freedom as a fundamental human right. Infringement action has become the surprise weapon in the Commission’s rule of law toolbox. The initial surprise is a thing of the past: over the years the Hungarian government has built some defenses of its own, using familiar components of the European constitutional architecture in service of illiberal democracy. Continue reading >>
29 September 2020

No Doubt, Lots of Benefit

The Hungarian government demanded the dismissal of Commissioner Vera Jourová over a quip she made in an interview in the German press. The day before the Commission’s first annual report on the rule of law is scheduled to land, the EU finds itself steeped in a high level inter-institutional conflict — sown by a self-proclaimed illiberal democrat. This is what being stranded by one’s own self-deception looks like. Continue reading >>
16 September 2020

Fear and (Self-)Censorship in Academia

Concerns with media freedom in Hungary go back years and they are also used as the case study for the Reverse Solange proposal presented on this blog. The most recent event is the takeover of the largest online news portal, Index, where the entire staff left as a response. A less documented arena is the academic setting we work in and which influences our work and everyday life. In both fields, takeover and blatant censorship is but the tip of the iceberg: the most visible part and indicative of a larger problem. In this post, I describe the problem through illustrative cases and discuss possible responses. Continue reading >>
07 September 2020

Aux armes, comédiens!

Revolutionary spirit in Budapest: students of the University for Theater and Film Arts blockaded the main entrance of their institution. The reason for resistance was another attack on academic freedom by the Fidesz government. It decided to “privatize” the university and to delegate the rights of control to a foundation established by the state - yet another stage in the government's culture war. Continue reading >>
08 August 2020

Blaming the People is not a Good Starting Point

A few days ago a very thought provoking article written by Prof. J. H. H. Weiler was published on ICONnect blog. I very much agree with the core of his argument that we need to pay more attention to the popular support enjoyed by the Orbán government and we cannot blame everything and anything on him alone. However, there are several points in his argumentation which I would like to address. Continue reading >>
22 Juni 2020
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Defending the Open Society against its Enemies

On 18 June 2020, in the case of Commission v Hungary (Transparency of associations), the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice held that Hungarian authorities “introduced discriminatory and unjustified restrictions on foreign donations to civil society organisations” when it adopted a new legislation on NGO in 2017. How will the Hungarian government react? Six potential scenarios can be outlined from not doing anything (scenario 1) – an unlikely option due to the threat of pecuniary sanctions – to full and good faith compliance with the judgment resulting in the total repeal of the Lex NGO (scenario 6) – equally unlikely. Between these two, four additional ones may be foreseen. Continue reading >>
30 Mai 2020
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From Emergency to Disaster

This week, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government put before the Hungarian Parliament two draft laws that, if passed, would end the state of emergency and create a new legal framework for handing the pandemic from here on out.  In doing so, the government was responding to those who criticized the unlimited power that the government had been given in the law creating a pandemic emergency, the Enabling Act of 30 March 2020.  That law allowed the government to override any law by decree, a power that was unlimited in both scope and time and that violated Fidesz’ own “illiberal” constitution the Fundamental Law.  

The new laws are no better, and may even be worse.   One of the draft laws is less than one page long accompanied by two pages of justification.   It purports to repeal the initial Enabling Act (about which, more below).    The other one is called the law on “transitional provisions” and at first it seems only to provide lots of technical answers to questions that arise about how to reset deadlines for various legal processes that were delayed when the economy stopped. The new laws are no better, and may even be worse. Continue reading >>

23 Mai 2020

Showdown at the Last Chance Saloon

As a political slogan, and a guideline in times of crisis, ‘whatever it takes’ undoubtedly has enormous appeal, and may in certain circumstances justify novel and untried forms of action. However, in a polity governed by the rule of law, there are limits to this approach which, if not respected, may cause greater problems than those which provoked the action in the first place. Continue reading >>
19 Mai 2020

The Last Chance Saloon

To all intents and purposes, Orbán and his government have ceased to be democratically accountable either to the Hungarian Parliament or to the citizens of Hungary. The words in that last sentence are chosen carefully and with meaning. This blogpost suggest that Article 10 TEU may provide a basis for the exclusion of Hungarian representatives from the European Council and the Council of the European Union. Continue reading >>
15 Mai 2020

The Curious and Alarming Story of the City of Göd

Misusing its extraordinary law-making powers which were conferred to it by the controversial Enabling Act during the epidemic state of danger, the Hungarian government expropriated the city of Göd. Apparently the government did so in order to punish the opposition lead municipality - and it seems to prepare further expropriations. Continue reading >>
10 Mai 2020

Warum Europa nicht auf Ministerin Varga hereinfallen sollte

„Die Welt” berichtete am 12. April von einem Gespräch mit der ungarischen Justizministerin dr. Judit Varga über die am 11. März in Kraft getretenen Notstands- und Ermächtigungsgesetze. Die Ministerin halte die Kritik daran (so auch hier) für „Falschnachrichten” und „Ausdruck einer liberalen Meinungsdiktatur in Europa”. Da es sich hier um ein Notstandsgesetz handelt, will ich vorsichtig vorgehen. Bei der Beurteilung des Gesetzes ist allein der Text die maßgebende Tatsache. Die Stellungnahme der Ministerin gleicht aber eher einer politischen Propaganda als einer sorgfältigen Analyse der Regelung. Continue reading >>
28 April 2020

On Doctrinal Contortions and Legal Fetishes

There seems to be a belief – especially persistent among some EU legal scholars – that even the largest political problems can be solved through the law. It suggests that any balance of authority and legitimacy between the EU and the Member States is, in fact, a mere technicality of institutional configuration, and a mere doctrinal sleight of hand would suffice to tip the scale of authority one way or another. This belief also seems to be underlying a recent blogpost by Christophe Hillion. Continue reading >>
27 April 2020

Corona Constitutional #16: Scheidung auf Europäisch

Wenn Polen und Ungarn sich erkennbar nicht mehr an das EU-Recht gebunden fühlen - was ist das dann anderes als eine Erklärung, nicht mehr Mitglied in der Europäischen Union sein zu wollen? Der Weg zum Polexit bzw. Hungrexit geht über Artikel 50 des EU-Vertrags, und CHRISTOPHE HILLION schlägt dem Rat vor, diesen Weg notfalls auch ohne das Einverständnis von Polen und Ungarn zu beschreiten. Ob und wie das europarechtlich genau funktionieren würde, bespricht Max Steinbeis mit dem Professor für EU-Recht in unserer heutigen Podcast-Folge. Continue reading >>

Poland and Hungary are withdrawing from the EU

The latest developments in Poland and Hungary beg the question of what the EU may, or indeed shall do when a Member State no longer fulfils the prerequisites of membership. Can the Union force that state to meet its duties against its will? Or should it ultimately acknowledge that state’s choice, and proceed with its orderly retreat from the EU legal order? Continue reading >>

Let’s not fool ourselves either!

I read with great interest the blogpost “Don’t be fooled by autocrats!”. However, to my great regret there are some factual errors in the text which require clarification and, consequently, the post’s very dire conclusion about the actual situation in Hungary shall be to a certain extent revised. Continue reading >>
22 April 2020

Don’t Be Fooled by Autocrats!

On 9 April, Vera Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission for values and transparency with lead responsibility for rule of law, gave an interview to Euronews on democracy in the pandemic. A journalist asked whether she believes that Hungary still qualifies as a democracy after the Enabling Act creating an indefinite state of emergency was enacted by the Hungarian Parliament on 30 March. Her answer was not reassuring. Continue reading >>
15 April 2020

Infringement Procedures in the Time of COVID-19

In the last weeks, members of the European Parliament and observers in the legal and academic community have, explicitly or implicitly, criticised the European Commission and the Court of Justice for their handling of ongoing infringement procedures. Put simply, the two institutions have been criticised for moving the existing cases forward, despite the fact that certain countries (first Italy, then followed by almost all other Member States) are in lockdown and, consequently, their administrations are unable to effectively respond. Continue reading >>
11 April 2020

Fighting Fake News or Fighting Inconvenient Truths?

Last week, the Hungarian Parliament amended the Criminal Code: it created the new crime of “obstructing epidemic prevention” and amended the already existing crime of scaremongering (rémhírterjesztés). The old version did have some shortcomings but the now adopted modification addresses none of the previously existing problems and makes the crime more susceptible to abuse by the authorities. Continue reading >>
31 März 2020

Corona Constitutional #0

Folge #0 unseres brandneuen Corona-Podcasts: ein Gespräch mit WALTHER MICHL über Ungarn, die EU und was sie sich gefallen lassen darf und was nicht. Continue reading >>

Illiberal Consti­tutionalism at Work

Hungary’s and Poland’s responses to COVID-19 demonstrate how illiberal constitutionalism works in practice. In both countries, national constitutional or sub-constitutional emergency regimes provide the framework for government action. Different political and constitutional contexts, however, mean that their specific proceedings diverge. Continue reading >>
28 März 2020

Die Unstrittigkeit des Zwecks

Wenn die Bedrohung, wie im Fall des Virus, als natürliche Gegebenheit auftritt, kommen leicht auch die Maßnahmen, um ihn zu beseitigen, als natürliche, d.h. fraglos vorgegebene Maßnahmen in Betracht. Eine Gefahr liegt hier darin, von einer Natürlichkeit des Zwecks auf die Natürlichkeit der Mittel zu schließen. Dass die Maßnahmen aber nicht natürlich gegeben, sondern politisch entschieden sind, muss demgegenüber im Blick bleiben. Continue reading >>
24 März 2020

Pandemic as Constitutional Moment

Viktor Orbán has finally created for himself a constitutional moment, one where he can use the tools of constitutional democracy to access unrestrained powers to save the nation. This move should be a major concern for friends of constitutional democracy around the globe: in the midst of a global pandemic and a looming global economic crisis, PM Orbán may well be on route to kick start a genuine constitutional pandemic. Continue reading >>
12 März 2020

Fighting Prison Overcrowding with Penal Populism – First Victim: the Rule of Law

On March 7th, a new Hungarian law came into force, allegedly intended to stop the “abuse” of compensation claims due to inhuman conditions in prison (“abuse law”). Even if this turns out to be yet another populist gimmick, the new legislation has important ramifications for the rule of law in Hungary because it sends the message to the citizens and the courts that the finality of judgements and court rulings are relative. Continue reading >>
08 März 2020

The EU, Segregation and Rule of Law Resilience in Hungary

The legal and political consequences of the Hungarian government’s campaign against an appeal judgment which ordered the payment of compensation for school segregation can reverberate across the EU, because of the ubiquitous nature of segregation. Should the Hungarian government prevail, the case may negatively impact the integration of minorities in other Member States as well, particularly if the European Commission fails to increase its efforts to enforce the Racial Equality Directive. Continue reading >>
26 Februar 2020

The Ghost of an Authoritarian State Stands at the Door of Your Home

In the late hot summer of 2033, in the home of a retired judge, a copy of a letter dated 21 February 2020 was lying on a desk. It was a father’s letter to his lawyer son. Here are its contents... Continue reading >>
27 Januar 2020

The Hungarian “Lex NGO” before the CJEU: Calling an Abuse of State Power by its Name

On 14 January 2020, Advocate General Campos Sánchez-Bordona delivered his Opinion in Case C-78/18 on the restrictions incorporated into a 2017 Hungarian law on the financing of NGOs from abroad. He makes clear that Hungary’s “Lex NGO” not only restricts the free movement of capital but also violates several fundamental rights, and is therefore incompatible with EU law. Continue reading >>
24 Januar 2020

Was qualmt denn da so komisch?

Über Polen, Russland und andere "gelenkte Demokratien", UK und andere (noch) nicht gelenkte Demokratien. Und Deutschland. Und Europa. Und, erwähnte ich das schon? natürlich Polen. Continue reading >>

Have you noticed that burnt smell?

On Poland, Russia and other "guided democracies", the UK and other not (yet) guided democracies. And on Germany. Oh, and have I mentioned Poland? And on Poland. Continue reading >>
23 Januar 2020

EU Rule of Law Dialogues: Risks – in Context

On January 16, 2020 the European Parliament passed a resolution about the state of the Article 7(1) TEU hearings with Hungary and Poland, noting with concern that “the reports and statements by the Commission and international bodies, such as the UN, OSCE and the Council of Europe, indicate that the situation in both Poland and Hungary has deteriorated since the triggering of Article 7(1) of the TEU”. The resolution is a plea for a structured and more meaningful process in which each EU institution would exercise its existing powers in a meaningful and cooperative manner. The resolution emphasizes that the Article 7(1) TEU preventive process is one of risk assessment and one that may have actual – including budgetary – consequences. Continue reading >>
20 Januar 2020

„Gelenkte Demokratie“ und der Protest der Gelenkten

Um Wahlkabinen-Fotos zu verbieten, bedarf es einer soliden gesetzlichen Grundlage. Das hat der Europäische Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte heute entschieden – in einem ungarischen Fall, der weit über diese Spezialfrage hinausweist. Continue reading >>
11 Dezember 2019

Silencing the Opposition in Hungary

On 10 December, the Hungarian opposition MPs got a lovely present from the governing majority for Christmas wrapped in a big legislative package amending both the Act on Parliament and the Rules of Procedure. The amendments to the parliamentary regulation serve the purpose of silencing the opposition parties which have been constantly gaining strength in the last few months. Continue reading >>
26 November 2019

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

The Hungarian Government has officially abandoned its plans to reform the administrative court system. However, the plan to subdue the judiciary is pursued as relentlessly as ever: On 12 November 2019, the Hungarian Government introduced an omnibus legislation which would extend political influence over the judiciary and guarantee judicial decisions favorable to the Government in politically sensitive cases. Continue reading >>
22 November 2019

Alles eine Frage der eigenen „Wahl“?

Am 21. November 2019 hat die Große Kammer des Europäischen Gerichtshofs für Menschenrechte in Straßburg (EGMR) seine Entscheidung über die ungarischen Transitzonen gefällt. Die Entscheidung dürfte in Bezug auf Transitzonen an europäischen Landgrenzen einen Präzedenzfall geschaffen haben – wobei das Urteil sehr problematische Implikationen enthält. Continue reading >>
18 Oktober 2019

Closing Loops, Unclosing Loops

On elections in Poland and Hungary and other constitutional matters of hope and despair. Continue reading >>
14 Oktober 2019

Local Elections in Hungary: the Results in Context

On October 13, 2019 local elections were held in Hungary. Even though the opposition parties had to fight an uphill battle, they achieved significant success not only in Budapest, but also in other big cities. The aim of this article is to put the results in context in order to give a more accurate picture of the current Hungarian situation. Continue reading >>
23 September 2019

Luxemburg as the Last Resort

A criminal proceeding has been suspended by a Hungarian justice of the Pest Central District Court to ask the European Court of Justice preliminary questions, inter alia, about his own judicial independence. Now, Hungary’s Supreme Court has stepped in and ruled that the reference was illegal, essentially arguing that preliminary references are not the fora to discuss such claims. In fact, however, this preliminary reference reveals that all other means to effectively challenge the rule of law backsliding in Hungary have failed. Continue reading >>
07 September 2019

The Age of Constitutional Barbarism

We need to rediscover the force of normative arguments in order to better understand the autocratic rivals to liberal democracy. Geburtstagskind Verfassungsblog provides a vibrant and openly accessible forum for discussions. Continue reading >>
06 September 2019

Fighting Fire with Fire

At the first sight, the likely nomination of Věra Jourova as Commissioner for rule of law and dropping Frans Timmermans out of the portfolio appears to be a significant victory for the Visegrad Group. However, considering Jourova’s track record, her nomination might be a clever, but hazardous move by Ursula von der Leyen that may deepen the cleavage among the Visegrad countries, put an end to their coordinated acting in sovereignty related issues, and cause more headache in Budapest and Warsaw than expected. Continue reading >>
07 August 2019

A Hungarian Judge Seeks Protection from the CJEU – Part II

In 2012, Hungary introduced a unique system of judicial administration that was criticized by domestic and international actors. This criticism has been validated by events since then which have shown that the National Judicial Council, the highest collective body of judges, is practically unable to counter-balance the broad powers of the President of the National Judicial Office (NJO). This has caused tensions between judges and the judicial administration, something that was predictable in 2012 when the system was introduced and has led to what can only be described as a ‘constitutional crisis’. Continue reading >>
28 Juli 2019

A Hungarian Judge Seeks Protection from the CJEU – Part I

For the first time, a Hungarian judge stayed proceedings to ask the CJEU preliminary questions about the independence of Hungarian courts. The questions concern the appointment of court presidents and the low salary of judges. The response of Hungarian authorities was quick: Within a week, the Prosecutor General requested the Kúria (Hungary’s Supreme Court) to review the reference with the possible effect of deterring other judges from asking similar questions. Continue reading >>
15 Juni 2019

Being a Good Dictator is not so Easy

On investigative journalists, homeless people, aberrant academics and other sources of civic unrest and discomfort. Continue reading >>
13 Juni 2019

„No one has the right to be homeless…”

The Hungarian Constitutional Court's decision on the homelessness ban is not only devastating in terms of outcome, but also in terms of quality of the Court’s reasoning. This poor quality does not stem from the justices’ intellectual inability to adequately address the issues involved in this case, but from unacceptable political considerations spread among the members of the Court. Continue reading >>
11 Juni 2019

Human Dignity for Good Hungarians Only

On 4 June 2019 the packed Constitutional Court of Hungary issued an astonishingly inhuman decision: The criminalization and eventual imprisonment of homeless people, the Court declared, is in line with the 2011 Fundamental Law of Hungary. According to the majority, “ (…) nobody has the right to poverty and homelessness, this condition is not part of the right to human dignity.” Continue reading >>
09 Juni 2019

A Bad Workman Blames His Tools

On caulking walls, laying oxygen pipes and other matters of constitutional craftsmanship Continue reading >>
25 Mai 2019

Dritte im Bunde: Für mehr Transparenz in der Partei- und Wahlkampf­finanzierung

Heinz-Christian Strache hat sich und seine FPÖ um Kopf und Kragen geredet. In dem heimlich aufgenommen Video, das den ehemaligen Parteivorsitzenden und Vizekanzler von Österreich in einer Villa auf Ibiza zeigt, schwadroniert er u.a. über einen Verein, der der FPÖ nahestehe und an den mehrere Vermögende gespendet hätten, vorbei am Rechnungshof. Der Vorgang wirft ein Schlaglicht auf Defizite der Parteien- und Wahlkampffinanzierung, nicht nur in Österreich. Continue reading >>
01 Mai 2019

Administrative Judicial Reform in Hungary: Who Gives a Fig about Parliamentary Process?

In the past few months, the Fidesz government has been working on the reform of the administrative judiciary at full speed. The Constitutional Court recently had the opportunity to slow down the process of undermining judicial independence by invalidating the reform legislative act on the basis of procedural irregularities. Even though the law had been adopted as a result of a chaotic parliamentary vote, the justices did not find a violation of the Fundamental Law. The outcome is not surprising, as the Court cannot be accused of exercising a particularly strong control over the parliamentary legislative process in general. What is puzzling, however, is the massive amount of hypocrisy manifested in the reasoning. Continue reading >>
06 April 2019

What Does the Spring Bring for the Rule of Law in Europe?

The Hungarian minister of justice requested the opinion of the Venice Commission on two bills establishing a new administrative court system in November 2018. Yet, before the Venice Commission got to have its say, the twin laws were adopted in December 2018, with the new courts expected to commence their work in January 2020. Continue reading >>
31 März 2019

How to Defend the Integrity of the EP Elections against Authoritarian Member States

The elections to the European Parliament will take place in a few weeks’ time. There is a clear danger that some of the new MEPs will gain their mandates in elections organised by Member States that are not up to democratic standards. The European Parliament should try to defend itself from being infiltrated by MEPs with questionable democratic mandates. It already possesses the competence which is necessary for it, in the form of mandate validation. Continue reading >>
26 März 2019

It’s Not Just About CEU: Understanding the Systemic Limitation of Academic Freedom in Hungary

Recently, there have been great disputes about the state of academic freedom in Hungary. As the country moved from democracy to electoral autocracy, its government started to limit individual and institutional academic freedom at a systemic level. This blog entry wants to explain how systemic limitation of academic freedom works in the higher education of the country, and how the general attack against check and balances affect the academic system. Continue reading >>
23 März 2019

Systemic Error – On Hungary’s Extension of European Voting Rights to Non-Resident Citizens

Last December, the Hungarian legislator adopted a rule that allows non-EU-resident Hungarian citizens to vote at the European Parliament elections. This rule is in line with a 2018 Council decision. Implementation done, EU conformity secured, nothing to see here. Or is there? Continue reading >>
17 März 2019

Fight Fire with Fire – a Plea for EU Information Campaigns in Hungarian and Polish

In the current crisis of democracy in the EU, we should not put too much pressure on the judiciary to fix the rule of law and democracy. Neither should we put too much hope for positive developments on (European) party politics. Rather I suggest that the EU should start speaking directly to the electorate via EU information campaigns in Hungarian and Polish. The 2019 European Parliament elections might provide an adequate framework for such campaigns. Continue reading >>
15 März 2019

Of Red Lines and Red Herring: The EPP’s Delusions about Restraining Orbán

This post will offer an overview of the main EPP’s ‘red lines’ since the EPP leadership first demanded from Prime Minister Orbán that he immediately comply with EU laws and EPP values nearly two years ago, in April 2017. We will show that, contrary to Weber’s claims about EPP values being non-negotiable, Orbán has repeatedly crossed the EPP’s supposed red-lines with impunity. And rather than being restrained by the EPP, Orbán has sought to transform it. Continue reading >>
05 März 2019

Stop Soros Law Left on the Books – The Return of the “Red Tail”?

On 28 February, Hungary's Constitutional Court found the so-called Stop Soros legislative package constitutional. Shocking as it may seem at first glance, this case reminds us how difficult it is to evaluate the judgments of a constitutional court operating in an illiberal political regime. Continue reading >>
02 Januar 2019

An Advanced Course in Court Packing: Hungary’s New Law on Administrative Courts

The design and establishment of the new Hungarian administrative judiciary provides insight into a new style of engineering illiberal constitutional democracy through dialogue with European constitutional actors. It is not simply the case that Hungary is undertaking judicial reform while the Article 7 TEU process is on its way. Rather, a new phase of judicial reform is passed under European supervision despite the clear threat it presents for the rule of law. Continue reading >>
18 Dezember 2018

The Democratic Backsliding and the European constitutional design in error. When will HOW meet WHY?

When is the constitutional design of any (domestic, international, supranational) polity in error? On the most general level such critical juncture obtains when polity’s founding document (treaty, convention, constitution) protects against the dangers that no longer exist or does not protect against the dangers that were not contemplated by the Founders. While discussion of the evolution of human rights and international actors in response to social change (LGBT, euthanasia, abortion) is well documented, such evolution with regard to political change (transition from one sort of government to another) is less well documented. Constitutions not only constitute but should also protect against de-constitution. For supranational legal order to avoid a deadlock of „being in error” in the above sense, the systemic threats coming from within the polity’s component parts must be recognised and constitutional design be changed accordingly. Continue reading >>
13 Dezember 2018

How can a democratic constitution survive an autocratic majority?

Can the democratic constitutions of Hungary and Poland survive an autocratic majority? Hardly. Hungary and Poland seem to be lost for liberal and democratic constitutionalism. At least for the time being, the next question is how democratic constitutionalism can prevent an autocratic majority. The task is to make it difficult for an autocratic parliamentary majority to capture the institutions of critique and control of government and to undermine separation of powers. Continue reading >>
12 Dezember 2018

No Case for Legal Interventionism: Defending Democracy Through Protecting Pluralism and Parliamentarism

Being a democrat means accepting that the law is not a very durable sword against authoritarianism. Democratic law bends and submits to the majority. When push comes to shove, it lacks the capacity to defy anti-democratic, authoritarian majorities. Of course, this does not mean that legal mechanisms and instruments are meaningless in this context. They can work against and impede the rise of anti-pluralist, illiberal and anti-democratic political movements. But it is important to acknowledge that legal interventions and prohibitive measures that target anti-liberal, anti-democratic political platforms also pose risks. They may undermine what they are supposed to protect: a free and egalitarian political process that is based on open political competition, pluralism and a free public discourse. Continue reading >>
11 Dezember 2018

Constitutional Resilience to Populism: Four Theses

Let us make a plea for modesty. Constitutional democrats need to be clear-eyed and realistic about what good constitutional design can do. We need to steer a middle course between constitutional idealism and nihilism. Constitutional idealists argue that thoughtful and intelligent constitutional design can largely eliminate the risk posed by populism; constitutional nihilists respond by arguing that there is little, if anything, that constitutional design can do in the face of the populist challenge that secures victory at the ballot box and captures the state from within. Continue reading >>
10 Dezember 2018

How to Abolish Democracy: Electoral System, Party Regulation and Opposition Rights in Hungary and Poland

When it comes to Poland and Hungary, everyone is talking about the judiciary, about the independence of the courts, about the rule of law. But hardly anyone talks about parliaments. Yet they are at the heart of our democracies. And they are no less at risk. This became clear in the third panel of our workshop, which dealt with the electoral system, party regulation and opposition rights in Hungary and Poland. What may sound technical at first glance are surprisingly effective instruments in the hands of autocrats. It is precisely with these instruments that the governments of both countries have set the course for a “democracy” that primarily benefits the ruling parties and undermines political plurality. Continue reading >>
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Europe’s Shameful Silence – An Open Letter to EU Leaders from Jean Monnet Chairs

In tomorrow's Council meeting the CEU eviction from Hungary will be a point of discussion. But what is required is taking some action. An open letter to Presidents Juncker, Tajani, and Tusk. Continue reading >>
09 Dezember 2018

“Constitutional Resilience – How Can a Democratic Constitution Survive an Autocratic Majority?”: Freedom of Speech, Media and Civil Society in Hungary and Poland

Freedom of speech, media freedom and the freedom of civil society are the lifeblood of democracy. As far as the threats to freedom of speech, media and civil society are concerned, from a normative perspective, the problems of Hungary and Poland are decidedly not external to western democracies. The question arises of how resilient constitutions are or can be made in this matter, whereby political viewpoint discrimination takes a center role in the conetxt of not only constitutional resilience but also our European values. Continue reading >>
08 Dezember 2018

How Can a Democratic Constitution Survive an Autocratic Majority? A Report on the Presentations on the Judiciary

European institutions and governments have come in for a lot of critique over the past few years. Sometimes such critiques have seemed unfair and hypocritical, in particular where those who criticize are no role models either (e.g. the European Union). And judging on a case-by-case basis, some the actions of the Polish or Hungarian governments seem perhaps not that extraordinary. Yet, once we look at the whole, a different picture emerges. As Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq have argued in their recent book How to Save a Constitutional Democracy, democracies can erode where we see changes with regard in the three fields key to preserving democracy: free and fair elections, the sphere of public discourse and the rule of law and the institutions enforcing it, i.e. courts and the administration. In Hungary and Poland, we see changes in all of these areas and this should worry us. Continue reading >>
07 Dezember 2018

Laws, Conventions, and Fake Constitutions

Does pure majoritarian decision making have intrinsic value or offer better consequences for society? The case of Hungary is not isolated but is an integral part of a global phenomenon. In contrast with earlier waves of democratization that spread across the globe, more recent tendencies have led to the disintegration of democracies. Not only Hungary and Poland (two EU Member States), but also Russia (probably the first regime of this kind), and many other countries from Azerbaijan to Venezuela epitomize this phenomenon, in which the country in question adopts — apparently in a democratic manner — a legal transformation that moves it ever further from, rather than toward, democratic principles. Given that today democracy counts solely as a legitimate constitutional system, the most salient new feature is that authoritarianism must play at being democracy. Continue reading >>

Beyond Electoral Mandates—Oversight and Public Participation

Those who win elections want to remain in power after the next election. They have an incentive to undermine the credibility of the opposition and to use the tools of political power to do so. Incumbents who aggrandize power and demonize opponents can produce situations where office holders are less and less threatened by credible organized opponents. The opposition, in turn, seeks to gain power not only by espousing alternative policies but also by questioning the integrity and competence of incumbents. Continue reading >>
06 Dezember 2018

Constitutional Resilience

Resilience of a body in general describes the ability to cope with an attack on its immune system. What is undisputed in psychology or biology is also valid for legal bodies, in particular for states. The term “constitutional resilience” obviously refers to the abilities of constitutions to cope with attacks and in the end to cope with a real crisis. In searching for answers on what constitutional resilience is, this article asks three questions: Where are the vulnerable parts of a democratic state governed by the rule of law? How can one protect the vulnerability of the state or some of its features? If vulnerable parts of a Constitution are properly protected – are the democratic state and its constitution safe? Continue reading >>

How populist authoritarian nationalism threatens constitutionalism or: Why constitutional resilience is a key issue of our time

The problem with movements and parties spearheaded by “populist” leaders such as Putin, Erdoğan, Orbán, Kaczyński or Trump is not that they happen to embrace more nationally focused policies that metropolitan elites widely condemn as unjust, ineffective or otherwise misguided. Nor is the problem that they embrace a confrontational political style and uncouth rhetoric at odds with the mores of reflexively enlightened society in political capitals across liberal constitutional democracies. Neither of those features would constitute a constitutional threat justifying sustained reflections on constitutional resilience. The problem with electoral successes of populist authoritarian nationalists is that they pose a fundamental threat to liberal constitutional democracy. Continue reading >>
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Introduction: Constitutional Resilience and the German Grundgesetz

What lessons does the plight of the Polish and the Hungarian democracy hold for a seemingly stable constitutional state like Germany? How resilient would the German constitutional setup turn out to be in the case of an authoritarian majority taking and successfully holding on to power? What kind of legal or institutional changes may be helpful to make that event less likely and/or less hard to prevent? These were the questions we aimed to address in a debate jointly organized by Verfassungsblog and WZB Center for Global Constitutionalism, generously supported by Stiftung Mercator. Continue reading >>
05 Dezember 2018

The CEU Leaves – Hungarian Students are Left in the Lurch

For 27 years Central European University has operated in Hungary’s capital. That era has come to an end. The forced move of the CEU to Vienna signals to Hungarians and other citizens in illiberal democracies that vulnerability is their future. They are left to the wayside by the international community, abandoned by the European Union, and left questioning who will ever defend liberal-democratic values in practice. Continue reading >>
22 November 2018

Europe’s Rule of Law Dialogues: Process With No End in Sight

The cause for concern is not that violators of the rule of law are strategic political actors or that they are disingenuous. Rather, the real problem is the unspoken premise on the basis of which defenders of the rule of law are more and more inclined to accept these developments as the very features of the EU’s rule of law safeguards. This acceptance is based on the flawed premise that so long as a procedure is in place one cannot really do more to defend the rule of law. Continue reading >>
12 November 2018
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Never Missing an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity: The Council Legal Service Opinion on the Commission’s EU budget-related rule of law mechanism

Regrettably, we need to add the Council’s Legal Service to the list of key EU actors that seem intent on ignoring the existential threat to the Union posed by the spreading rule of law rot amongst EU member governments. In a (non-public) opinion on the proposed regulation of the Commission to create rule of law conditionality in the multi-annual financial framework adopted on 25 October 2018, the CLS indeed put forward multiple unpersuasive legal arguments to claim that the Commission’s proposal cannot be adopted. With this opinion, the CLS is advising the Council to actually prevent other institutions of the EU from doing their job to uphold and defend the set of common values on which the EU is based. Continue reading >>
31 Oktober 2018

What Being Left Behind by the Rule of Law Feels Like, Part II

By now it must be clear to all that the Hungarian and Polish governments do have a plan that is built on staying within the Union, and changing it from the inside, (ab)using its institutions, resources and weaknesses to their own benefit. Every round and every step where European institutions falter in preventing moves to this effect is an opportunity for the offending member states to pursue their strategies even further. Continue reading >>

Guilty of Homelessness – The Resurgence of Penal Populism in Hungary

In Hungary, “residing in public spaces as habitual dwelling” constitutes a petty offence punishable by community service work or confinement. Even though the constitution had been amended to provide a basis for that, it is not inconceivable that the criminalization of being homeless is found unconstitutional. Continue reading >>
29 Oktober 2018

What Being Left Behind by the Rule of Law Feels Like, Part I

On October 25, 2018 Central European University (CEU) made international news again. President and Rector Michael Ignatieff announced that CEU is moving to Vienna, unless the Hungarian government makes progress by December 1, 2018 on the international agreement it is meant to sign with the State of New York under Hungarian law. In the last few hours many readers of this blog, friends and colleagues, took to asking how I felt about this. Disappointed, frustrated – but most of all: betrayed. Continue reading >>
26 Oktober 2018

Expanding the Franchise – another Sleight of Hand by the Hungarian Government?

The Hungarian government plans to expand the right to vote in the upcoming European elections to Hungarians living outside the EU. Is the aim of this plan simply to comply with EU law? Or is this another part in the long history of Fidesz trying to manipulate the franchise in their favour? Continue reading >>
23 Oktober 2018

Constitutional Pluralism between Normative Theory and Empirical Fact

It has been recently floated in legal academia and the blogosphere that it is high time for constitutional pluralism to bow out of the European scene. The reason? It has been alleged to be (1) “fundamentally flawed and unsustainable” for allowing the application of EU law to be selective and unequal and (2) prone to abuse by autocrats, as demonstrated by the ongoing dismantling of democracy and the rule of law in Hungary and Poland where national (“constitutional”) identity is invoked all too often to justify patently illiberal policies. Is constitutional pluralism really to blame? What is this beast anyway? Continue reading >>
02 Oktober 2018

Executive and Legislative Organs of Hungary Disobey Court Rulings

Freedom of information is a heavily used tool of journalists and NGOs in Hungary, and a right protected by the courts and the Constitutional Court – but in some cases, even in very high profile cases, the process stops there. The judgement is not enforced, and the right to know remains theoretical and illusory, rather than practical or effective. Enforcement is increasingly eroded, which demonstrates the weakness of the Hungarian rule of law state. Continue reading >>
18 September 2018

The Four Elements of the Autocrats’ Playbook

There is truth in the old maxim proclaiming the imperative to try to get to know your enemies well. We outline four key techniques deployed by the autocratic regimes in Poland and Hungary in order to consolidate the constitutional capture and massive assault on European values and take a look at some of the elements of each of the four. Continue reading >>
17 September 2018

Beyond the Spectacle: The European Parliament’s Article 7 TEU Decision on Hungary

Emotions were high and voices loud while and after the European Parliament adopted its decision to trigger an art. 7 TEU procedure against Hungary this week. Once the dust settles, it might be helpful and disillusioning to look at the possible consequences, the collateral damages and the side-effects of the European Parliament's art. 7 TEU decision. Continue reading >>
10 September 2018

How to Stop Funding Autocracy in the EU

The EU finds itself in the perverse situation of providing some of the largest transfers of funds precisely to those governments who most prominently thumb their nose at its democratic and rule-of-law norms. The legal debate about this misses the fact that the EU already has a sufficient legal basis to suspend the flow of funds to states in which rule-of-law norms are systematically violated. The real problem to date has not been the lack of adequate legal tools, but the lack of political will on the part of the European Commission to use the tools that already exist. Continue reading >>
29 Juni 2018

Fidesz and Faith: Ethno-Nationalism in Hungary

“The protection of Hungary’s self-identity and its Christian culture is the duty of all state organizations” says one of the new provisions that were adopted on 20 June to change the country’s Fundamental Law of 2011. Besides its potential to limit fundamental rights, what are the possible consequences of this constitutional change, in legal, cultural and political terms? Continue reading >>
08 Juni 2018

The Hungarian Constitutional Court betrays Academic Freedom and Freedom of Association

On 5 June the Hungarian Constitutional Court issued two injunction decisions, almost identical in their texts, which suspend the constitutional review procedures against two laws enacted in early April, 2017 by the Hungarian Parliament, outside the normal legislative process. The first, an amendment to the Act on National Higher Education known as „Lex CEU“ was challenged by a constitutional complaint, the second, the Act of the Transparency of Organizations Receiving Foreign Funds by 60 opposition MPs of the Hungarian Parliament with an abstract norm control notion. The handling of these two petitions by the Constitutional Court was odd in more than just one respect.