Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 9 October 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Rule of Law in the European Union: (Resumed) Ambassador of Hungary
I remind people to please switch off mobile phones as they cause interference with broadcasting system and distract people. This is a live televised session and we welcome viewers of the proceedings on UPC and Sky channels.
We are continuing our consideration of the rule of law, with the assistance of the Hungarian ambassador, Dr. Tamás Magyarics. Last Tuesday the committee met representatives of Transparency International to discuss this issue. On behalf of the committee I welcome the ambassador. The rule of law is a fundamental pillar of the European Union and the committee held meetings on this topic in the early summer. A new framework seeks to allow the European Commission to intervene in the event of serious systemic threats to the rule of law in a member state. There is some concern regarding the approach to the rule of law in Hungary and in this context we look forward to a briefing from the ambassador.
I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or persons outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chair to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I invite the ambassador to make his submission, after which we will take questions from committee members.
H.E. Dr. Tamás Magyarics:
I thank the committee for inviting me to come before it and I welcome this opportunity to speak about the rule of law in Hungary. The Hungarian parliament accepted, with a two-thirds majority, a new fundamental law in 2011, which came into force on 1 January 2012. The fundamental law replaced the previous constitution, which was first drafted in 1949 and amended several times, in particular during and after 1989. Hungary was the last country among the central and eastern European states to introduce a new constitution after the transition and profound political changes in 1989 and 1990. Redrafting the constitution was long overdue. During the political transition in Hungary in 1989 and 1990 it was suggested that a constitutional convention be called into session, but ultimately this was shelved.
In the next two decades, or so, several different propositions and proposals were made to write a new constitution and they required a two-thirds majority in the parliament. Given the very polarised nature of Hungarian political life, no political party was able to introduce a new constitution or a draft for a new constitution until 2010, when the current coalition Government received a two-thirds majority and was in a position to fulfil what had been on the agenda of all political forces in Hungary.
The fundamental law and its amendments, especially the fourth amendment of 11 March 2014, aroused widespread interest and debate both inside and outside Hungary. The documents were extensively scrutinised by, among others, the European Commission, members of the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission, the US Department of State in its annual human rights reports, a number of civil organisations and the domestic and international media, with various degrees of expertise and knowledge of the actual texts. The Hungarian Government continued an extremely intense and extensive dialogue with official and unofficial partners and, when it considered objections valid, it changed or modified laws and regulations. As a result it may well be that the fundamental law of Hungary is the most widely scrutinised and approved such document in the European Union. The drafting of the constitution took around eight months during 2010 and 2011 and, ultimately, it was accepted by a two-thirds majority of members of parliament. It is sometimes noted that no other political forces took part in the process but they voluntarily withdrew from the debate and did not wish to take part in the political process for reasons of their own.
The Venice Commission stated that the new constitution "establishes a constitutional order based on democracy, the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights as underlying principles". The Venice Commission approved the constitution and did not find it wanting in terms of basic principles, including the rule of law. The majority of comments on rule of law in Hungary have centred on electoral law, media regulation, the status of churches and religious organisations and the independence and structure of the judiciary.
I will now address electoral law. The electoral districts, set by an executive order in 1990, did not change for 20 years despite substantial population shifts during this period. Thus, the largest electoral district incorporated two and a half times as many voters as the smallest one in 2010. The new electoral law halved the number of members of parliament and the total is currently 199. Some 106 members of parliament are elected directly in a first past the post system while the rest can get a mandate on party tickets and through a so-called compensation ticket. The threshold for parties for sending candidates into parliament is 5% of the popular vote. The 2014 parliamentary elections were declared fair and open - the observers, including those of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, in some cases missed a larger turnout of minorities, especially the Roma population. Hungarian electoral law is sometimes criticised for distorting the popular vote in favour of the biggest party but if the Hungarian elections of 2010 and 2014 had been run entirely on a first past the post basis the current coalition would have received between 90% and 95% of seats in parliament. It cannot be said that the current two-thirds majority system distorts the opinion of the population.
The passing of the new media law in 2010 provoked a heated debate. However, it should be remembered that the media had criticised the media law of 1995 because it put supervision into the hands of politicians delegated by the parliamentary parties. The new law broke with the possibility of the direct political influence and entrusted the oversight of the media to a media council, whose members are elected by a two-thirds majority of members of parliament. Commissioner Neelie Kroes expressed concerns about the concentration of power, which was unique across Europe, and the independence of the media council. As a result of constructive dialogue, the Commissioner, Ms Neelie Kroes, welcomed changes in media legislation on 26 November 2012. Media law has been modified three times since 2010, each time in co-operation with the European Commission or the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The changes affected the registration of the press and media services and strengthened the protection of information sources and the independence of the media council. The most recent issue in this area relates to a new advertising tax. It arises as a consequence of disproportionate revenues from advertisements and the new tax does not affect all the media outlets equally. Advertising in the media generates €560 million per annum and tax of €4.1 million is paid - this is less than 1% of the revenue generated. The Hungarian Government wants to remedy this issue and spread the financial burden by taxing media outlets.
There are hundreds of organisations in Hungary that define themselves as religious organisations. As such, they enjoyed a number of benefits such as tax exemption for the organisation in question, a personal income tax exempt status for officials and so on. After 2010 the Hungarian Government wished to regulate the field and greatly reduced the number of churches and religious organisations that could still qualify for privileged status. It was decided they should meet certain criteria and, after modifications of the original law, partly in accordance with a ruling of the Hungarian constitutional court, the new criteria were set out. A church or religious organisation must have been in operation for at least 100 years internationally or 20 years in Hungary, in which case it must have a membership of at least 0.1% of the total population, or approximately 10,000 people. In addition, parliament must be given more precise criteria relating to an official church's suitability in promoting community goals, such as education, medical treatment, social services, charities and so on. Regardless of whether a religious group is recognised by parliament as a church, every religious group is entitled to use the word church in its official name. Officials from both recognised and unrecognised churches have the same rights and legal protections and their doctrines, internal regulations and statutes cannot be subject to state review, modification or enforcement.
The regulation of the authority and structure of the various members of the judiciary has also been amended - in compliance, for instance, with the observations of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. Criticisms had centred on the extensive authority of the president of the national judiciary office, which included budgetary and financial management of the courts, staffing, appointments, distribution of caseloads and the ability to transfer cases from one court to another. The fourth amendment to the constitution incorporated the provisions related to the judiciary into the fundamental law. The passing of the fifth amendment addressed the removal of the most controversial right of the president of the national judiciary office, that is, the right to transfer cases from one court to another. On the recommendation of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the president of the National Media and Infocommucations Authority is now to be appointed by the president and not the prime minister, as was originally provided for, while the president and members of the media council cannot be reappointed after the expiration of their nine-year terms, in contrast with the original stipulations.
Another widely discussed point was the mandatory retirement age for judges and state prosecutors. Originally, it would have required the introduction of mandatory retirement at the age 60 but ultimately a compromise was hammered out and the new system is to be introduced over a ten-year period, setting the retirement age at 65, that being the oldest age for retirement with pension benefits according to the relevant Hungarian Act on retirement and pensions. The change will become effective on 1 January 2023.
Finally, the Hungarian Government also dropped an amendment that would have allowed it to cover the cost of any future European Court of Justice fines by levying new taxes. I wish to conclude the opening statement with a general conclusion. As might be evident from the statement, and possibly if members have followed the Hungarian constitutional developments, the constitution has been shaped in the past four years in close co-operation with the relevant authorities within the European Union and therefore I would characterise the debate or dispute within the European Union over the Hungarian constitution and the amendments as a family dispute in which each member simply expresses his or her views and they try to hammer out a compromise for the benefit of the two parties.
I thank the ambassador. With his agreement, I propose that we will take a number of questions from members. He can bank questions and replies as he sees fit. If necessary, we will have further interventions.
The committee was addressed by Transparency International earlier in the week and it expressed concern on the application of the rule of law in Hungary. The group said it wrote to the ambassador in June 2014 to express its concerns. We are anxious to hear the response the ambassador made in that regard. It was also brought to our attention the alleged blacklisting by the Hungarian Government of a number of NGOs, for whatever reason. Members will be anxious to ascertain the cause of such blacklisting and what it means. First, I call Deputy Dooley, then Senator Kathryn Reilly, Deputy Seán Kyne and Senator Aideen Hayden.
I welcome the ambassador and thank him for his presentation. We appreciate his attendance before the committee for such a discussion. At times it is difficult for any democracy to face up to external criticism. Any comments I make should not be seen as criticism by the ambassador. We wish to bring about a situation where we are all playing on a level pitch. Any reports or concerns that get raised about the rule of law are rightly of concern for all friendly nations. We can work collectively to try to address any issues that arise. One of the areas on which I wish to focus is the policy that is in place to assist in the protection of vulnerable minorities. The issue arises in terms of the Roma community.
I am also aware that the European Parliament's culture and education committee has rejected endorsement of Hungary's Commissioner designate as the future education, culture and youth citizenship Commissioner. Will the ambassador comment on that, or is there anything he can tell us that would give us some comfort in that regard?
I too welcome the ambassador before the committee. I have two questions, one of which Deputy Dooley touched on. In a speech in Romania, the Prime Minister, Mr. Orbán, explained that he wanted Hungary to become an illiberal state and he spoke admiringly of the political systems in Russia, China and Turkey. He said that Hungary would remain a democracy and not reject liberal principles such as freedom of speech but it would be based on a different special national approach. Could Dr. Magyarics elaborate on what he believes that will translate into, via the rule of law?
Deputy Dooley referred to vulnerable communities, including the Roma community. It is widely know there has been a rise in attacks on the Roma community, including slum clearance, which has made many in Hungary homeless. What are the ambassador's views and how does he feel about the homelessness crisis in Dublin in the context of what is happening in his own country?
I welcome the ambassador and thank him for his presentation. I visited his country some years ago and went to the beautiful city of Budapest. It was a very enjoyable visit. I have been reading the report by Transparency International which alluded to several matters, some of which the ambassador addressed. He spoke about the suggestion as far back as 1989 or 1990 of holding a session of a constitutional convention. Did that happen in the context of the changes that were introduced in recent years since the government got a two thirds majority?
Any change to our Constitution requires a full vote of the people. Has that ever been considered in Hungary in the context of the changes? Even in the UK where there is not a written constitution when a major decision is taken, for example on the European Union, the issue is put to the people in a referendum.
The report from Transparency International indicated that 274 judges were forced to retire early. Could the ambassador confirm the figure? I do not know how many judges are in Hungary but it would be useful to learn. If we were to discuss a proposal in this Parliament to get rid of 274 judges in one fell swoop, there would be a serious backlash and concern. The issue is worrying. Could the ambassador confirm how the new appointments will be made? Will they be political appointments or will they be made by the proposed council on the judiciary?
I noted in the ambassador's presentation that Hungary was the last country among the central and eastern European states to introduce a new constitution after the transition and the profound global changes in the period 1989 to 1990. One question relates to the historical reasons that may be so in terms of Hungary. The ambassador was quoted in an RTE interview as saying many people believe there is a double standard in the European Union and that Hungary was being unfairly picked on and criticised for things that are not criticised in other countries. In his presentation the ambassador stated his support for the need to address issues which are vital for the future of the Continent, including Hungary. Does the ambassador view Hungary as being unfairly treated compared to other EU countries?
H.E. Dr. Tamás Magyarics:
I will address the questions asked by members one by one. Deputy Dooley inquired about the protection of minorities, especially the Roma people. The new constitution pays special attention to the protection of minorities, especially disabled women and children, the foetus and also ethnic minorities. I remind the committee that it was during the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union that a Europe-wide Roma initiative and programme was introduced in order to integrate the Roma people and give them opportunities for education and work.
Let me be honest, it is a very difficult issue. Hungary has approximately 600,000 to 700,000 Roma people. Unemployment is very high among them, which is attributed to their not being able to compete on the labour market with others due to a lack of adequate skills. Many different programmes have been initiated to try to adopt certain models, even the US Magnet schools. Once again to be honest, the results have not been adequate. We must work on it in the future but we also believe that this problem can, to a certain extent, be solved internationally, so we expect European Union advice and assistance to address the problem.
Senator Reilly referred to the liberal state and Mr. Orbán's statement which has been very widely discussed. To a certain extent, it has been misrepresented, especially in the American press. What Mr. Orbán was talking about was the failure of the liberal economic policies. To put it into context, when the new Government took over in 2010, the Hungarian state was in an economic straitjacket. We had to go hat in hand to the IMF. The first Orbán Government stepped down in 2002 and for two terms, there was a Socialist Government and Free Democrats Government, which was a liberal Government. In these eight years, the sovereign debt skyrocketed from approximately 58% of the GDP to 82%. During the eight years, the current account deficit was always above 5% or 6% but in one year, it was 9%. The treasury was empty. What the Hungarian Government and Mr. Orbán concluded from this situation was that the so-called liberal or neoliberal economic polices did not work.
The Hungarian position and that of Mr. Orbán can better be described as a Christian emocratic or a social democratic one rather than a liberal democratic one. These are very different types of approaches but that is how I would characterise this approach.
It is written into the constitution that in addition to rights, there are also obligations and responsibilities which individual citizens have to meet. The rights and the responsibilities go hand in hand. One cannot separate the two. That includes special attention to the minorities.
I would like add one thing in regard to this approach to illustrate it. Last weekend an American racist and extremist organisation wanted to hold a conference in Budapest. The Government banned the meeting because of its overly racist attitude. As a result of banning the meeting, the Government was attacked by NGOs and by the political opposition which said the Hungarian Government had broken the right of free speech and that it should have let this racist organisation organise and have its meeting in Budapest. The Government's attitude was that the community should be protected from racist and extremist views. If one has to balance protection of the community and minorities with extremist interpretations of the liberal rights, including freedom of speech, under all circumstances, priority should be given to the protection of the minorities and the community and not to some abstract liberal interpretation of the freedom of speech.
A question was asked about homelessness and homeless people. The Hungarian law is clear. The municipal authorities have the right to assign certain venues and certain neighbourhoods as off limit for people begging or sleeping on the streets, including, for example, sites of world heritage. At the same time, in order to address the problem of homeless people, the government had quite a number of homes for homeless people built. More places are at their disposal than registered by the individual municipal authorities. We should give them the opportunity to have a decent place to sleep and to have some hot food instead of sleeping and begging in the streets. One could say that an abstract individual right is that if one wants to be a homeless person, one should have the right to enjoy one's right even in the middle of the parliament, although the government states that certain sites are off limit. Again this is not without precedent. Members might remember, for example, that the former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, had a zero tolerance policy in New York. Perhaps the novelty of the measure created debate.
Deputy Kyne referred to the constitutional convention. The constitutional convention was not organised and held, even though in hindsight it would have been better if it had been held at the time. Unfortunately, Hungarian political life is extremely polarised. Polarisation means the political parties treat each other as enemies not as opponents. As I said, a two thirds majority was required by the old constitution. There was no consensus to call a new constitutional convention into session. The first time a political force had gained a two thirds majority was in 2010 and that is why a new constitution was written after 2010 and not before it.
In regard to the judiciary, 260 judges were affected by the judiciary law. Under the new legislation, the majority continued to serve. Some preferred to opt for early retirement with compensation packages while one died.
This is not a problem any more because the legislation comes into force in 2023. The judges can decide in the next ten years or so what to do.
I turn to the constitutional court and transparency. The constitutional court originally had 11 members, which has increased to 15. The members are elected to the court by a two thirds majority. It was mostly as a result of a bargaining between the political forces as none of them enjoyed a two thirds majority. Right now, most of the judges nominated to the court enjoy the support of the governing party. First, I do not want to prejudge how they would behave once elected because there have been many cases where judges have behaved differently from the way in which they had been expected to behave. So-called liberal judges turned out to be quite conservative and vice versa. I do not want to have parallels from all over the world, but I note that in the USA, it is well known that Supreme Court judges are nominated by the President in accordance with their political outlooks. A liberal President nominates liberal judges while conservative Presidents nominate conservative judges. After that, who is going to do what? Transparency International came to the conclusion that the judiciary was independent, transparent and without political interference. So far, not a single case has been found of political interference. That is exactly what the Hungarian expert on Tuesday told this committee.
Senator Hayden asked why Hungary was the last country. She touched a raw nerve and has entered dangerous waters because I come from the academic world. In the university, people are given 90 minutes to talk about certain issues, but I do not want to entertain the Senator with the constitutional history. The major reason was that there was a deadlock between the political forces and the old constitution required a two thirds majority to change. Between 1990 and 2010, no political force was able to garner a two thirds majority to initiate a new constitution.
The question was asked whether Hungary was unfairly treated. It was not unfairly treated, especially when one considers the various organisations of the European Union. If one talks about the European Commission, the Council of Europe or the Venice Commission, there was a very professional, sophisticated debate and discussion with Hungary. It was a different matter sometimes with the press where it was not that informed and emotions were running high. I separate the expert and the professional side from the press. To give one example, one of the most prestigious magazines in the world ran a lead article in 2010 by a grand old man of British politics discussing the Hungarian electoral results. His whole thesis was based on the assumption that certain people running on the Fidesz ticket had racist views. These people had been kicked out of Fidesz before the election, however, and clearly he missed the whole point. Nevertheless, that was published in one of the most prestigious and most renowned magazines in the world. The press was one thing but the family of the parliamentarians and the bodies of the European Union treated Hungary fairly.
If one has a debate, views will clash, but I emphasise that all disputed issues have been settled for the benefit of both parties. Mr. Orbán and the Government believe a strong European Union needs strong member states. Whatever he is doing in economic life, he tries to strengthen the European Union because he believes that without strong member states, the EU cannot compete with other centres of power in the world and will lag behind.
H.E. Dr. Tamás Magyarics:
Let me talk a little about the Tavares report. It was accepted more or less along party lines in the appropriate committee and European Parliament. It can be interpreted as part of the political game between the EPP and socialists, greens, liberals and so on. Some of the observations were valid and some were not and were contested, but in general the final conclusion can be accepted that the individual countries, constitutions, the rule of law and legislation should be monitored closely by the individual parties of the European Union. That is what we can agree on, regardless of whether the individual points taken one by one are treated as valid. Some of them were politically motivated while others were not.
Hungary is a member of NATO and has participated in a number of NATO-led campaigns. It has also voiced concerns regarding sanctions in respect of the Ukraine and over-reliance on Russian gas, yet it has done deals with the nuclear industry in Russia. It appears to be a complex foreign policy, some aspects of which relate to Hungarians outside the state's borders.
I might add a couple of questions at this point.
Does Mr. Magyarics think the changes that have taken place or have been proposed, and in respect of which the European Commission has expressed concerns, would leave his country in a position in which it would still comply with the acquis communitairethat applies to every country before membership of the EU can be obtained?
A number of European countries, including this country, have had severe economic difficulties recently. While there would be a debate within political parties about the cause of that, there is a general recognition within Europe that membership of the EU is based on the need for a general common thrust of legislation and the application of the rule of law. In the absence of those things, there is a tendency to go outside the rule of law. The comparisons that have been made with the United States would not necessarily be regarded as relevant in this context. There are many things that apply in the US that would not be acceptable in Europe. I am sure there are things that apply in Europe that are not accepted in the US. The right to bear arms, for example, is a fundamental issue for people in some parts of the US. The EU would not readily concur with that position.
How many homeless people are there in Hungary? How many of them are members of the Roma community? Why did the blacklisting of certain non-governmental agencies, and the blocking of international aid provided through those agencies, happen? On what basis did it happen? The Charter of Fundamental Rights that was drawn up by the EU applies to all member states. It is not justiciable in all cases, but it is certainly there as a headline and as a basis from which to work. Is it accepted within Hungary and the EU that the charter is being complied with in Hungary at present?
H.E. Dr. Tamás Magyarics:
I will refer firstly to the issue of gas and nuclear power. Approximately six months ago, the Hungarian Government concluded a treaty with Russia about the construction of another nuclear power plant block adjacent to the current nuclear power plant, which generates approximately 40% of Hungary's electricity. If the proposed block is added, that figure will increase to 80%. The Hungarian state took three or four different options into account, including American companies like Westinghouse and French companies like Areva. I think there was even a Finnish proposal. Given that the existing and operating power plant is Russian-built and is operating relatively smoothly, the addition of another block is technically and technologically most feasible if it is done by the Russians and not by the Americans or anyone else. The Russians offered quite a good financial package. I should mention that this all happened well before the events in Ukraine and Crimea. It would have taken a soothsayer to see what was going to happen in the future.
With regard to gas, the reverse flow meant that Hungary was exporting the largest amount of gas to Ukraine. Hungary stopped the reverse flow of gas to Ukraine because winter was coming and a Hungarian reserve needed to be provided for. We stopped it because we wanted to be able to provide the necessary amount of gas for Hungary in the first place. As I have said, Hungary was the country that had been exporting or re-exporting the largest amount of gas to Ukraine.
Deputy Durkan asked how many homeless people there are in Hungary. Honestly, I do not really know. I do not know whether the correct figure is 5,000, 10,000 or 15,000. I cannot really answer this question.
H.E. Dr. Tamás Magyarics:
I will do my best. It is difficult to assess whether somebody is a homeless person in the different communities. We will do our best to try to find out the statistics that have been sought.
The Deputy also asked about the economic situation and about how Hungary applies the rule of law. Most of the so-called "surplus taxes" that were mentioned have been imposed on banks and telecommunications companies, etc., that were paying relatively low taxes. The Government believes the utilities that were sold into private ownership with guaranteed profits, etc., are strategic sectors. By the way, they are being bought back at their market price. The different taxes on the banks and the other organisations are not extraconstitutional. The case can be made for and against whether these taxes make sense. I would like to add that approximately 80% of the banks in Hungary are owned by foreign "mother banks", especially German, Italian and Austrian banks. They were making their highest profits in Hungary and neighbouring countries. For that reason, it does not seem excessive to tax them to make them share some of the economic burden. By the way, this whole process has been co-ordinated with the banking union and others who have sometimes - not quite happily - seen the point and accepted the justification for extra taxes.
I was asked about the blacklisting of NGOs, which is a very controversial issue. Approximately 80,000 NGOs are operating in Hungary. There is currently a dispute with one of them. The NGO that has a dispute with Hungary is running three of the 12 programmes under the so-called Norwegian fund. The other nine programmes are handled by the state. As the members of the committee might be aware, the Norwegian fund is given to each of the new member states. In some countries, like the Czech Republic, the whole programme is run by the state. In Hungary, nine programmes are run by the state and three programmes are run by NGOs picked by the Norwegian fund. One of them is under discussion at the moment for suspected economic irregularities and possible non-transparent operations. With regard to the economic or financial irregularities, the chief executive of this NGO, Veronika Mora, admitted in an interview that it had been having some irregular financial activities, such as pre-financing programmes which they should not have done.
Strictly speaking, there might have been some financial problems with the handling of the programmes. Second, it was not quite transparent because the applications were given to two independent reviewers but ultimately in a lot of different cases, the independent reviewers' written assessments and points were thrown out the window and organisations which previously had not been given very favourable reviews by independent reviewers were provided with the funds.
This is a very unfortunate dispute, which has been blown out of proportion. I think that sooner or later the problem will be solved in co-operation with the Norwegian partner. There is an ongoing investigation and debate between the Norwegian and Hungarian sides, so I do not wish to prejudge the outcome of the process.
On the issue of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, is Dr. Magyarics satisfied that any legislative changes made in the past number of years are within the remit of that charter? We would regard the necessity for the general thrust of European policy across each member state, but there is latitude for member states in order to ensure that they comply with the law. Is there a danger that some countries are moving beyond that and that the acquis communautaireprior to accession laid down certain rules and guidelines which had to be complied with. Do they still apply? Does he believe that Hungary still complies? Do organisations such as Transparency International, TI, agree? Why is Transparency International concerned about the situation?
H.E. Dr. Tamás Magyarics:
I wish to state firmly that Hungary is and will be a member of the European family. We are in compliance with the acquis communautaire. The fundamental law in Hungary is based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In the past hour or so, I repeatedly wanted to convey this message, that there might have been disputes over certain sections, not the whole, but the government went out of its way to meet half way with the requirements and requests of the European Union. Let me give one example, which is the case of transferring a case from one court to another. There are countries in the European Union in which the Judiciary can transfer one case from one court to another. The Hungarian Government took this provision out of the fundamental law at the request of the European Commission despite the fact that we maintain the view that it is not anything new and is an existing practice in the European Union. On Tuesday, it was mentioned that the Hungarian Government was constitutionalising certain regulations, that is, taking them from the area of common law and putting them in the constitution and, therefore, they cannot be challenged by the courts. This is what the French were doing in several different cases. Regulations that were widely disputed were simply put into the constitution, putting it beyond the reach of the courts in France. In general, every single provision that one can find in the fundamental law or the different amendments to the Hungarian fundamental law can be found in one, two or three or more members of the European Union, possibly not everything in one constitution but the point is that not one single provision has been put into the constitution that has not been present in one, two or three other constitutions or fundamental laws in European Union countries.
As I said in my opening statement, the Hungarian fundamental law and its amendments have been thoroughly investigated, debated and scrutinised as no such legislation has been in the European Union. Frankly speaking, I think we possibly contributed to a stronger European Union because certain precedents have been created with this process. Therefore, the European Union has been made stronger simply by showing that any debate within the family can be settled peacefully, democratically and in a way that is in the spirit and tradition of European values.
We thank the ambassador for coming before the committee and giving us his views in response to the issues raised. I am not sure if he replied to the letter of June last from Transparency International, but I am sure he is in the course of doing so in order to allay its concerns. Has the correspondence from Transparency International of June 2014, in which concerns were expressed about some of the issues that members of the committee have raised, been responded to or is the reply been worked on to ensure that the concerns TI raised were addressed?
H.E. Dr. Tamás Magyarics:
It is difficult to answer this question. The concerns raised by Transparency International on our bodies have been taken into account and there has been ongoing discussion. There is a dialogue between Transparency International and the government, so I do not wish to prejudge what will happen.