Soon after it was set up last May, Hungary’s Parliament included on its agenda plans for a new constitution. The issue has repeatedly emerged in Hungary’s public life and parliamentary debates since the change of regime, but all attempts have failed in the past 20 years for lack of the required majority and support for a new constitution. The current one is rather outdated and its support has been fragile from the first moment because it was adopted by the newly elected Parliament in 1989 as an explicitly provisional constitution to replace the existing Soviet model.
Set up in May 2010, the new Parliament, where the Governing party has a majority of more than two thirds, decided to establish a Preparatory Committee as soon as June. Today Parliament has started a debate on the committee’s proposal for a new constitution.
Currently, Parliament is looking at a draft resolution in which leaders of the governing party’s parliamentary group invite their counterparts from the opposition to submit their constitutional proposals by 16 March. Despite its parliamentary majority, the governing party has also guaranteed that if more than half of any parliamentary group submits a bill on the new constitution, Parliament will automatically include it in its agenda and will hold a debate before the general public. In other words, the majority government will make sure to include on its agenda the opposition’s constitutional proposal if appropriate.
Under the draft resolution, Parliament invites the Government to assist MPs in codification, i.e. preparing bills on the new constitution, but the Government will not intervene in constitutional work in any way.
In early March, Parliament could adopt the draft resolution on the new constitution’s regulatory principles. This could result in the draft text of the new basic law, to be discussed by Parliament as a Constitutional National Assembly after 15 March and to be adopted on 18 April. The new constitution could come into force on 1 January 2012.
Parliament’s constitutional work has been accompanied by national consultation under the National Consultation Board’s aegis. Members include:
- József Szájer, Member of the European Parliament,
- Zsigmond Járai, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the National Bank of Hungary,
- János Csák, Hungary’s ambassador to London,
- Katalin Szili, former Speaker of the House, former leading politician of the Socialist Party, now independent MP,
- József Pálinkás, President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
The thrust of national consultation is to involve Hungarian citizens in the drafting of the new constitution, asking for their opinions on several specific matters. For instance, should the new constitution only declare the rights or also the obligations of citizens; restrict sovereign indebtedness; provide special protection for national assets?
Government politicians have repeatedly stressed that Hungary does not primarily need a new constitution for the transformation of its legal system but rather for economic and symbolic reasons.
It also seems sure that the new Hungarian constitution will rely on the EU’s Charter of Basic Rights and broaden citizens’ rights, an issue to be moved from the last chapter of the current constitution to the first chapter of the new one. Following suit of the Charter, the basic law will include not only women and young people, but also the elderly and the disabled in the vulnerable groups of society.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán pointed out in several statements, most recently in his speech in Parliament on Monday, that the new Hungarian Constitution will play a key role in the country’s economic stability. Thus he asked Parliament to include in the new constitution a chapter on Public Finances as a constitutional guarantee for a responsible management of sovereign debt and public assets. In this context, on 14 February, Monday, Parliament’s Audit and Budget Committee set up a subcommittee to investigate the causes of sovereign debt increase in the past eight years. The subcommittee must identify the erroneous economic and political decisions that caused sovereign debt, as opposed to the GDP, to rise from 53% to 80% between 2002 and 2010, and the responsible decision makers.(kim.gov.hu)