Projected timeline of constitutional process

September 7, 2010: Working groups are created within the ad hoc Parliamentary Committee responsible for drafting the Constitution. Working groups review and deliberate on the proposals submitted to the Committee. Working groups start drafting concept papers for their respective topic.

September 30, 2010: Governmental bodies, NGOs, the academic community submit their suggestions and proposals for the concept and framework of the new Constitution.

October 20, 2010: Working groups prepare framework proposals relevant to their respective topic.

November 2-15, 2010: The Committee debates the prepared concept papers.

November 30, 2010: The Summarizing Working Group prepares the general concept of the new Constitution.

December 10-15, 2010: The Parliamentary Draft Committee debates the main principles to be represented within the new Constitution and decides on the final concept paper to be introduced in Parliament.

January – March, 2011: Drafting of constitutional text.

March 22 – April 18, 2011: Scheduled Parliamentary debate on proposed Constitution Draft.

April 18, 2011: Scheduled adoption of new constitution.

April, 25, 2011: President of the Republic signs the Constitution into law.

News, Analysis, & Opinion (in English):

News, Analysis, & Opinion (in Hungarian):

English Summary: A National Consultation Committee was created by József Szájer, the head of the national consultation on the drafting process. The members of the committee include: Zsigmond Járai, head of the Supervisory Board for the National Bank of Hungary; János Csák, Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary in London; József Pálinkás, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; and Katalin Szili, former member of the Hungarian Socialist Party, now independent. The reason for choosing each individual was different. As huge state debt and budget deficit is one of the major obstacles and problems facing Hungary, János Csák and Zsigmond Járai will be able to provide assistance in the consultation process with their unique expertise on the private and public sector of the economy. Meanwhile József Pálinkás and Katalin Szili will embody the different aspects of the academia and the importance of the environment.

The Committee will not make any decisions but collect and mediate the opinions of the different segments of Hungarian society. József Szájer emphasized that every citizen has to have a say in the drafting process. The ad-hoc parliamentary committee has already held hearings with several interest-groups and NGO’s. In February every citizen will receive a survey about the draft of the new Constitution. The results will be sent to the government and to the members of the Parliament.

English Summary: Defining  a proper place for the Holy Crown in the brief history of Hungarian democracy remains a problematic issue regardless of political partisanship. The source of such confusion is no other than the lack of classic democratic tradition in the history of the country. Throughout Hungarian history, the Holy Crown has never been the symbol of the democratic republic but stood for the historic continuity of the Hungarian state. Neither does the Holy Crown represent legal power, nor does it wish to do so in any circumstances. While the left generally rejects the idea of attributing any political meaning to the Holy Crown by identifying monarchies with tyrannical measures and equating republicanism with freedom and democracy, the right faces greater difficulty in placing the Holy Crown in the democratic dialogue and reaches back on citing historic continuity as a raison d’étre. Given the above confusion, the responsibility of the Hungarian right will lie in creating a Hungarian republic, which lives in peace with its historic past. The Holy Crown shall not represent a gap between the monarchic past and democratic present but should serve as a bridge between past and present and shall achieve historic continuity by learning from past mistakes and not repeating failures.

English Summary: Maybe the debate whether the Holy Crown should be featured in the new Constitution is based on asking the wrong question. The crown is always a tool of the Monarchy: it is worn by monarchs, never by democratic leaders. Maybe the crown can be featured in a constitutional monarchy’s legal documents but it might not even be necesary even there.

The fact that Hungary is preoccupied with the Crown suggests a move towards authoritarianism. Status is divorced from performance through the power of law. An even more dangerous aspect is how some wish to access authority through symbols like the crown, making up for a confused identity and self-image.

The Holy Crown is not a living and effective force in Hungarian society, rather it is a substitute for identity for people who scarcely know anything about Hungarian history and are merely looking for a chance to attach themselves to this nation. A mutually beneficial game thus gives the people in power something to stabilize their rule and their followers something to hang their identity on. This is a game based on „non-realities”.

English Summary: The President of Hungary, Pál Schmitt has recommended the inclusion of the Holy Crown in the preamble of the Constitution. He has stated a belief that a large number of Hungarians feel attached to the Holy Crown, percieved as a symbol of national unity. Therefore he suggests declaring in the preamble that  „the Holy Crown is a historically sanctified symbol of our independent European statehood“.

Gábor Máthé, university professor, president of the Hungarian Lawyers‘ Union maintains that the Preamble does not have compulsory legal implications, but it needs to be understood as a solemn declaration that has to represent one thousand years of Hungarian state development. He mentioned that the Holy Crown has been personified as opposed to remaining an object across Europe. The Crown is generally seen as the embodiment of state sovereignty and it signified Hungary’s sovereignty up until the eighteenth century. This is why Máthé believes it should have a place in the Preamble and lawyers should also emphasize the thousand years‘ legal continuity.

Zoltán Miklósi, research director of the Eötvös Károly Institute thinks there are many authoritative analyses of the role of the Holy Crown Doctrine in the development of the Hungarian constitution but he believes it has no place in the Preamble. He thinks that the context in which the doctrine appears can be contrasted with the modern democratic and republican ethos of Hungary, such as the premise that the source of power lies with the people. It would be wrong to deduce the current republic, based on a thousand years of constitutionality, from the previous kingdom.

English Summary: Csaba Molnár, an MP of the Hungarian Socialist Party, requested extraodinary proceedings from the Constitutional Court to speed up the decision about the popular initiative for the referendum on Hungary’s new Constitution. He turned to the Court after the National Election Agency rejected to notarize their sheets used for collecting the signatures for a referendum call.

Csaba Molnár quoted one of the latest surveys conducted by Medián indicating that slightly more than one-quarter of the responses  were in favor of having a new Constitution and a strong majority of respondants think that the citizens should decide on whether they want the new Constitution or not.

The Hungarian Socialist Party has decided not to take part in the drafting process but wants to influence the Parliament with the popular initiative that could result in bringing the question of referendum to the floor.

English Summary: László Sólyom, the former president of Hungary, emphasized at a conference that Hungary should not detour from the European way.  In his speech he praised the draft document because it certainly stands for the highest European constitutional norms but he also criticized it. According to the first president of the Constitutional Court the draft left open several questions and this might allow for a revival of reformist communist concepts as for instance the restriction on the powers of the Constitutional Court and on the control of the legislative body.

English Summary: The preamble of the new constitution will present inclusive values, which each Hungarian may feel to be their own, said Gergely Gulyás, vice-chairman of the ad hoc Parliamentary Constitution Drafting Committee. Gulyás added it would be unfortunate for the drafting of the constitution to be driven by current political interests only. The situation right now is not one of pressured constitution drafting; it is rather time for a new constitution because the old one is ready for a change in both its structure and certain regulations.

The preamble obviously needs a new form, the vice-chairman believes. The notion of the Hungarian nation needs to be broadened and Christianity needs to be included in order to reflect the culture in Hungary and Europe. However, the body of the current constitution can be used as a foundation. While the values the chairman wants to include in the preamble do not exclude anybody, they will not be acceptable for everyone. The government has made it clear they wanted a constitution and they will accept the changes for the benefit of the country even without the support of the political opposition. However, their aim is to gain as broad a support as possible.

The tasks related to drafting the new constitution are formally performed by the Parliamentary Constitution Drafting Committee, which will prepare the concept document for the new constitution by December 15. The text will be finalized / codified by the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice. Throughout this process, a panel of six authorities (Imre Pozsgay, Péter Boross, József Pálinkás, József Szájer, György Schöpflin, and István Stumpf) will advise the prime minister.

English Summary: A legislative proposal was submitted to strengthen the constitutional position of the Prosecutor General, to reform the legislative process as well as to regulate the laws controlling legislative order. Róbert Répássy, deputy secretary of the Public Administration and Justice Ministry, said they perceived external pressure in each of these areas. Répássy believes that interpellation (question time) does not belong to the role of the Prosecution Service, rather it serves as a tool to hold the government accountable. The separation of powers and the professional independence of the Prosecutor both need to be restored by ensuring no interpellation of the Prosecution Service and also by confirming the Chief Prosecutor by two-thirds majority in Parliament, as is the case with head of the Supreme Court and the members of the Constitutional Court.

English Summary: If it were up to Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, “God bless the Hungarians!” would be the first sentence of the preamble of the new constitution. This, in his opinion, would represent important national cohesion. There was unprecedented national solidarity in support of the victims of the red sludge disaster, said Semjén in the Morning Show of Hungarian National Television (MTV). He confirmed that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would make important announcements regarding this matter today, but he wouldn’t specify any further. Since it was not a natural disaster, human error is the only alternative: either at the planning, construction or management phase.

Concerning other matters Semjén added, free choice in schooling and neutral education can only be guaranteed if clerical schools receive the same financial support as public schools. He highlighted that the central government has no intention to raise the number or ratio of religious schools. People can make their choice locally. If people want a religious school and a church accepts to manage the institution, then it will become a religious institution, otherwise it will stay public, argued Semjén. When asked what would be the first sentence of the preamble of the new Constitution if it was his choice, he answered: God bless the Hungarians. Note to reader: “God bless the Hungarians!” is the first line of the Hungarian National Anthem.

English Summary: The governing FIDESZ-KDNP party wants to force its own plan for the Constitution on everybody, which cannot integrate the political community; therefore, opposition parties should not take part in its preparation, says the Eötvös Károly Public Policy Institute, a think tank based on liberal values founded by the Soros Foundation.

The Institute believes the new constitution is “getting in the center of a political fight”. If representatives of the opposition take part in preparations and the parliamentary debate, they legitimize the new constitution which “they have no power to influence, considering the decision making techniques employed by the governing party”. However, if they stay out of the process, they “are freed from the moral burden of assisting in the deconstruction of the constitutional structure currently securing appropriate separation of power and protecting basic rights based on freedom and dignity, which has been in place for two decades.”

As the Eötvös Károly Institute reminded readers, the election campaign did not mention the new Constitution and after coming into power, the government modified the deadline for completing the legislative plan on several occasions. According to their statement, the Constitution is “always more than its mere text”; the passing of time legitimizes it and entails new layers of interpretations and practice.

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