Hungarian lawmakers pass disputed Constitutional amendments

Hungarian lawmakers on Monday passed a package of controversial amendments to the country’s Constitution that opponents say weakens democratic checks and balances and violates the rule of law. The Fourth Amendment puts into law numerous measures that were introduced by the center-right Government and later annulled as unconstitutional by Hungary’s Supreme Court. The amendment, which contains more than 20 articles, includes a provision that could restrict commercial media from running political-campaign advertising during elections that was struck down by the top court in January for violating freedom of expression. The amendment has also reinstated previously overturned laws restricting the powers of the country’s Constitutional Court and the independence of the judiciary. 

Monday’s vote, which sparked street protests in Budapest and rebukes from European officials, has heightened concerns over the government’s sweeping legislative reforms that critics say are anti-democratic and violate EU standards and norms. The Government has used its parliamentary majority to push through hundreds of laws, including new media legislation and a new Constitution, that opponents warn undermine democracy and remove institutional checks on the government’s powers. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was quoted as saying that the Fourth Amendment introduces “irreversible” measures that give Parliament more power than the Constitutional Court to protect the constitution.

In reaction to Monday’s vote, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland issued a joint statement voicing concerns over the amendment’s compatibility with “the principle of the rule of law, EU law and Council of Europe standards.” The European Commission also issued a statement saying the body would use all means at its disposal to enforce EU regulations. 

The government’s latest moves have ignited a series of protests by students and civil society groups. Last week, a group of students stormed Fidesz headquarters, holding signs that read “the constitution is not a toy.” Over the weekend, thousands of demonstrators rallied near Parliament to protest the Fourth Amendment. On Monday, a group of high school students were detained by police after forming a blockade near a Parliament entrance as the vote was taking place. Protests continued into the evening