Constitutional Revenge

One year ago, Hungary’s slide from a multiparty democracy into a one-party state was all over the headlines. The European Union responded, threatening sanctions. The Council of Europe (keeper of the European Convention on Human Rights) repeatedly rapped Hungary’s knuckles for violating European norms on democracy and the rule of law. The United States expressed concern. The forint (Hungary’s currency) dramatically weakened, even against the weakening Euro.

One year is a long time in politics and the current one-party Fidesz government has simply waited out the storm. Sure enough, the European Union has gone back to business as usual, even increasing Hungary’s budget allocation. The Council of Europe recently certified that Hungary is now compliant with a number of European standards. The US is still concerned, but more quietly. And the forint has started to recover from its late 2011 spike against the Euro. It appears that Hungary is once again a normal country – or at least a tolerated one.

The world has relaxed because the Hungarian government appeared to modify some of the most offending reforms after pressure from the European Union, particularly with regard to the appointment of judges and media regulation. It also seemed that the Hungarian Constitutional Court was doing its job to keep the government in line. Contrary to all predictions (including mine), the Constitutional Court has spent the last several months striking down many of the most worrisome laws passed by the Fidesz government.

The Court declared unconstitutional the law that arbitrarily lowered the retirement age of judges. The Court nullified the law that made it a crime to be homeless in Hungary. The Court quashed the requirement that students on state-provided financial aid remain in the country after graduation ...

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