Basic rights have strengthened in Hungary over the past year through the introduction of a new supreme law and other new legislation, Bence Retvari, state secretary at the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, said on public Kossuth radio on Monday.
Speaking on the show via telephone, Sylvana Kolaczkowska, programme director at the human rights watchdog Freedom House, recalled that the organisation’s comparative Nations in Transit study had noted a sharp decline in democratic trends in two countries – Ukraine and Hungary – during its overview of events in 2011, published recently.
She said that Hungary, over the past two years, but as part of a longer process that started before Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s term and accelerated lately, has shown a deterioration of 0.5 points in its overall rankings, which is unusually large movement.
She said that through the new media law and other legislative changes the government punishes civil society more than before.
Retvari said Hungary’s basic law contained the widest possible range of basic rights which are adopted in the EU as well as containing new rights such as a cloning ban or a GMO ban. He added that the judiciary and the constitutional court had been strengthened in order to ensure that the new rights are implemented.
He added that there were no unified models in the EU for ensuring freedom of the media. Members of the Media Council are appointed by the government or the culture minister in some countries, or the president in others, he said. In Hungary it is parliament which appoints the body’s members with a two-third majority vote, which is the most important way to secure its independence. Its members cannot be ordered or recalled, all to ensure independence, Retvari said.
Kolaczkowska said Freedom House considered the new election law to give cause for concern from a constitutional point of view, and mentioned a reduction in time for fielding candidates as well as voting rights granted to Hungarians outside the border as examples. She said the latter had strengthened Fidesz’s power. She also mentioned the appointment of Tunde Hando,a long-time friend of Orban’s and the wife of a Fidesz MEP, to head of the National Judicial Office, as cause for concern regarding judiciary independence.
In response to criticism about Hungary’s new election laws, Retvari said scrapping a two-round electoral system is conform with other systems in the EU and that the new electoral districts had been formed proportionately, as acknowledged by the Venice Commission.
Retvari said voting rights for Hungarians beyond the border were not unusual as 25 EU members had similar rules in place. He added that Hando’s independence over her 20 years as a judge had not been questioned.