On Monday, the Parliament of Hungary approved an amendment to the Hungarian constitution that could limit democratic accountability and opens the door for corruption risks. The European Council meeting today and tomorrow provides an opportunity for European leaders to address integrity risks at the highest political level with the Hungarian Prime Minister.
“The curtailing of the competences of the Constitutional Court and overturning a handful of its latest rulings by amending the Fundamental Law annihilates control over the government administration and parliament,” said Miklós Ligeti, Legal Director of Transparency International Hungary. “The new Fundamental Law empowers parliament to prohibit political campaigning on non-public service media channels putting a major hurdle in the way of freedom of information into practice. Furthermore the amendments open the door wider to corruption pitfalls in the province of the judiciary. Legislation enabling arbitrary interference within the judicial process undermines public trust in the fairness of procedures.”
In a joint statement issued by European Commission President Barroso and Council of Europe Secretary General Jagland earlier this week, both leaders expressed concerns about the amendments passed on Monday with regard to their effects on the rule of law, EU law and Council of Europe standards.
“We hope that European Commission President Barroso and other EU leaders will use the occasion of the European Council meeting today and tomorrow to raise their concerns with the Hungarian Prime minister directly,” said Jana Mittermaier, Director of the Transparency International EU Office. “An assault on one EU country’s institutional safeguards can become a corruption risk that affects all EU citizens, not least because EU member states administer about 80% of EU funds. EU institutions and their leaders should use all their political, legal and budgetary power to prevent those risks in the interest of the European Union as a whole.”
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If passed, the new constitutional provisions would give the President of the National Hungarian Judicial Office, a government appointee, the power to decide the distribution of cases in the law courts, an invitation for lobbying by special interests or government intervention. Another provision overturns a Constitutional Court decision to allow political parties to advertise on non-state media during elections, leaving only government-controlled state media for political advertisements.
Already last year, Transparency International Hungary carried out a study of institutions in the country that concluded that political influence on independent institutions is high. Among other things, it recommended that Hungary needs to ensure transparency and accountability in political party and campaign financing and safeguards to ensure judiciary independence. A 2012 Transparency International study highlighted significant corruption risks in 23 EU countries, including when it comes to the procurement of public funds and the integrity of political party finances.
EU member states’ political and administrative representatives take part in EU decision-making through the Council and European Council, and EU member states handle about 80% of the EU budget. Corruption risks at national level can therefore become corruption risks at European level.