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Monocolumn: Changing The Constitution – Without Asking First

Monocolumn: Changing The Constitution – Without Asking First
Innovation

Hungary has a new constitution – but it could cause more problems than it solves on the diplomatic front.

Monocle
  • 6 may 2011

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Catch up with previous editions here.

Hungary has a new constitution – but it could cause more problems than it solves on the diplomatic front. The new charter states that Hungary “shall bear a sense of responsibility for the fate of Hungarians living outside her borders,” something which is almost certain to antagonise its neighbours. Several million ethnic Hungarians live abroad after Hungary lost two thirds of its territories at the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.

The vote on the new constitution was slammed through parliament in a month after the government refused to hold a referendum. As a result, the opposition Socialists and LMP, a green-liberal party, boycotted the drafting process and the vote.

The government dismissed their complaints. The ruling Fidesz party’s two-thirds majority is all the mandate it needs. “From a constitutional point of view the two-thirds majority has the right to change the constitution and have a new one,” Jozsef Szajer, a Fidesz MEP who drafted the constitution on his iPad, told Monocle. Attila Mesterhazy, the Socialist leader, called on Pal Schmitt, the president, not to sign the new Constitution into law, claiming, “The Hungarian Republic, which the country has built together for 20 years, could fall with the stroke of your pen.” Schmitt, a Fidesz loyalist, is unlikely to oblige.

Politically, Mesterhazy’s claim is over the top. Hungarian democracy is not about to collapse, although the new constitution institutionalises Fidesz’s centralising drive. “The Hungarian Republic” is now, officially, called “Hungary”. The document blends history and modernity: there is a heavy emphasis on the holy crown, history and Christianity. Marriage is defined as between a man and a woman and the constitution pledges to protect the foetus. However, abortion and same-sex partnerships, which are legal in Hungary, will not be affected. Human trafficking is outlawed, biodiversity protected and the national debt will be reduced to 50 per cent of GDP.

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