By Martin Banks - 12th March 2013
I am disappointed
European parliament president Martin Schulz has joined the chorus of criticism over Hungary's new constitutional changes.
His intervention comes after the Hungarian parliament adopted an amendment to the constitution on Monday despite "serious doubts" that it may weaken democratic standards in the country.
The changes end the Hungarian constitutional court's power to review substantive changes to the constitution.
Speaking in Strasbourg, Schulz said he had asked Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán to seek an opinion on the amendment from the Venice commission of the council of Europe before the Hungarian parliament voted on it.
"I am disappointed that this had not happened," said Schulz.
The German deputy went on, "I am not the only one to be worried by this constitutional change and its possible negative impact on the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights.
"I now expect a detailed analysis on the issue from the council of Europe and the commission.
"Every member state must adhere to European laws and standards. This is what Orbán promised to parliament last year. The same promise was made by Orbán in a letter he sent to me on Friday."
Yet more condemnation came from commission president José Manuel Barroso who said it was "unfortunate" that experts from the council of Europe and the commission did not have the opportunity to "discuss and clarify in detail" the content of the amendments before their adoption.
He said, "These amendments raise concerns with respect to the principle of the rule of law, EU law and council of Europe standards."
He said the council of Europe and commission would now make a detailed assessment of the amendments.
Barroso said Orbán had given the "full commitment" of the Hungarian government and parliament to " European norms and values".
"In this sense, we expect that the Hungarian authorities will engage in bilateral contacts with the European institutions in order to address any concerns raised as to the compatibility of these amendments with European principles and EU law," Barroso added.
Elsewhere, Human Rights Watch called on the EU to take "resolute" action in response to the latest constitutional changes.
"These latest changes leave no doubt about the Hungarian government's contempt for the rule of law," said Lydia Gall, eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"The government's willingness to bypass the constitutional court and subvert the constitution for its own political ends underscores the need for a concerted EU response."