The Eötvös Károly Institute strives to improve and strengthen the citizens political culture based on the spirit of solidarity.
26 October 2012
Superficial amendments: Organization of the judiciary remains inadequate
Last year the government introduced fundamental changes to the judicial system. Although 30 separate provisions of the relevant regulation were amended in response to the serious concerns raised by the Venice Commission (vc), the organization of the judicial system remains centralized and still endangers the independence of the judiciary and the fairness of court proceedings – according to the Eötvös Károly Institute, the HHC and the HCLU.
Hungarian NGOs assess the new Constitution of Hungary
The Eötvös Károly Policy Institute, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee have examined the draft Constitution of Hungary submitted to the Parliament on 14 March 2011. According to the NGOs the draft Constitution undermines democratic political competition and makes political change more difficult by transforming institutional structures, weakens the system of checks and balances and alters the framework of the political community by extending the right to vote. The draft Constitution decreases the level of protection of fundamental rights and significantly limits the enforceability of these rights through curbing the Constitutional Court’s powers. Since there is no information available on the planned content of the acts of Parliament requiring a two-third majority to be adopted, it may be stated that the adoption of the new Constitution will be only the beginning of the constitution-making process, not the end of it.
The Second Wave of Legislation - Violating the Rule of Law
Criticism of the First Wave of Legislation by Hungary's new Parliament
Judicial independence, accountability, and reform
This study, compiled by the Eötvös Károly Institute on behalf of the National Council of Justice (OIT), examines ways to reconcile two principles that may seem mutually exclusive: the independence of the judiciary from other branches of power, and the constitutional democratic doctrine of accountability of all forms of power, including the judicial. The solution is to bring about conditions that will guarantee the simultaneous vindication of both of these tenets.
The data protection requisites of electronic identification
Conducted on behalf of the National Development Agency between July and September 2007, this study aims at assessing the data protection aspects of various plans, concepts, and feasibility studies pertaining to the informatization of public administration in Hungary, particularly as regards models of electronic client identification and the means of handling personal data that they imply. As further objectives, the study proposes to gauge the data protection risks of specific plans and concepts, and to recommend ways for the removal of these risks. Additionally, the study endeavors to provide decision makers and developers with a universally valid set of criteria toward enforcing data protection principles, constitutional requirements, and applicable law, as early as in the phase of planning for the provision of electronic government services.
Methods of individually tracking aid eligibility and disbursements among the Roma minority
The exercise of additive minority rights and access to “affirmative action” institutions and support obviously presuppose some kind of definition of eligibility requirements and thus the identification of eligible individuals. If the law guarantees the free choice of identity without any legal strings attached, even as it also guarantees certain extra rights for minorities and applies measures of positive discrimination, then each individual will be entirely free to decide at his or her own discretion whether to claim these benefits.
Principles of party financing
In a modern society ruled by representational democracy, it is now completely natural for political parties with seats in Parliament, or at least with a good chance to get in, to operate in a businesslike manner within the fold of a permanent organization. This trend has been rendered irreversible by several developments in mass-based democracies around the world over the past 50 years. Involvement in politics demand ever deeper professional specialization and expertise, and the politician’s job is now a full-time one more often than not.
Impoverished parties and well-heeled campaigns
Over the past few weeks, the issue of party financing has finally moved into the spotlight of public attention, although the phenomenon itself that has given currency to the topic is certainly less welcome. By any serious reckoning, each political party that has won seats in Parliament spent on their campaigns multiples of 386 million forints, the maximum amount allowed by law. In a constitutional democracy, nobody should get away with violating laws–let alone those who pass them.
Access to public sector data
The authors of this rather ambitious study regard it as the first part of a comprehensive project. The chapters completed to date aim at identifying the problems in the field. This groundwork will enable us to later develop models for a national data resource policy, possibly several versions within each given model. Then and only then will it become possible to draft a National Data Resource Act–something we have very high hopes for.
The Concept for an Electronic Freedom of Information Act
In the fall of 2003, the Eötvös Károly Institute prepared a study, commissioned by the Ministry of Informatics and Communications, on the options of implementing the principles of electronic freedom of information in Hungary. Through a discussion of foreign solutions and experiences, the study traces the idea of electronic freedom of information as it is manifested in Hungarian legislation and legal practice, providing an analysis of laws and regulations prescribing mandatory electronic disclosure and requiring the bodies of the national government and municipalities to post information of public interest on their web sites. The study was motivated by the ambition to offer a convincing portrayal of the need for regulating electronic freedom of information on the legislative level, made all the more pressing by constant changes in socio-economic relations and the call to tidy up the system of civil rights and responsibilities. In June 2004, the Ministry solicited the Institute to put the preliminary studies to use toward drafting the regulatory concept for an Electronic Freedom of Information Act, on the basis of which a formal submission could be made to the legislative body with a mind to codifying the provisions. The Eötvös Károly Institute rose to the challenge by drafting the concept with the participation of the listed experts.
Motion of Censure
The cabinet crisis that scaled unprecedented heights during the last days of August centered on an institution of Hungarian democracy few citizens had had reason to think much about for the past 14 years. During the preceding three government cycles, not one serious person had entertained the idea that the incumbent Prime Minister should be impeached or relieved of office by the ruling parties, nor that a majority coalition of different composition should be formed as a result.
Police in a constitutional democracy
Without much ado, at the end of March the Constitutional Court began to repay a debt outstanding for over a decade. Adopted in 1993 on a nearly all-embracing consensus under the MDF government, the Police Act had since then come under criticism by a number of independent commentators and advocacy groups on account of the broad powers it conferred upon the police that seemed hardly defensible in a genuine constitutional democracy. In fact, several motions for a constitutional review were filed. However, the most important questions of principle–notably the scope of means ideally granted to the police and other enforcement agencies vis a vis citizens in a constitutional democracy, and the terms under which they are allowed to avail themselves of those means–have gone unanswered by the Court in the past decade. One of the key issues here is that of the use of firearms: Under what circumstances, and against what subjects, should it be permissible for a police officer to resort to his weapon, ad absurdum taking a fellow human being’s life?
Electronic freedom of information in Hungary
The transparency of governance, including unhampered access to public information regarding its operation, decision-making processes, criteria weighed for decisions etc., is a fundamental prerequisite for any constitutional democracy. No citizen will be able to form a competent opinion about the working of public power or make informed decisions as a voter unless he has access to crucial information on the basis of which such opinions may be formed and decisions made.
Weapons of mass destruction in the arguments of the government
The Iraq conflict has been at the forefront of global politics for about a year. The question of war has pitted the U.S. leadership against the governments of France and Germany, and the outcome of the crisis could easily determine the relationship between the leading powers of the world for a long time to come. Even though Hungary has been but a marginal actor in the process, as a NATO member state its decisions nevertheless carry some weight. In its proclamations, the Hungarian government has consistently claimed to stand for the cause of “Euro-Atlantic unity.” However, no such unity over the Iraq conflict has ever existed, and the international public, western papers, commentators, and politicians listed Hungary among the countries supporting the American-British offensive.
The Prosecutors Office in the crossfire of political debate
One of the universally recognized weaknesses of political consciousness in Hungary is the low level of trust in our constitutional institutions. The withholding of confidence on the general social level is often damaging for persons who happen to hold office, and for the institutions themselves as well. Part of the blame must be assigned to the governments themselves that have not properly respected the boundaries of distinction separating institutions headed by political appointees from those whose independence is desirable or downright obligatory.
What do the courts say?
The chief duty of courts as repositories of the rule of law is to decide legal disputes between citizens and institutions. Courts are traditionally characterized by a propensity to stay away from the clamor of publicity–an endeavor not altogether alien to the constitutional principle of judicial autonomy. Having said that, the courts remain very much part of the exercise of executive power by the state, and as such cannot be exempted from the general rule of disclosure when it comes to information of public interest. The President of the Constitutional Court himself has more than once publicly urged better disclosure practices. Between July and September 2003, the Eötvös Károly Institute examined county courts and municipal courts based in country seats for speediness and adequacy in allowing public access to information concerning their own operation.
The prime minister replies
What makes a government responsible? The answer is obvious: Among other things, the government’s willingness to regularly answer questions regarding its operation in public, and to do so concerning issues and at a time not of its own choosing. In parliamentary democracies, one measure of checks and balances consists of the breadth of powers made available to the opposition that be. We cannot speak about accountability to the National Assembly unless cabinet members are obliged to regularly appear before the legislative body to answer questions from members representing the opposition.