Hungary leader's power grab worries EU

His party seeks to entrench laws rejected by court
2013-03-11T00:00:00Z Hungary leader's power grab worries EUThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

BUDAPEST, Hungary - Hungary's prime minister can't take "no" for an answer, even when he is being instructed by the country's highest court.

Over the past 18 months, the Constitutional Court has struck down several of the government's policies, including fining or jailing the homeless for living in public spaces, banning political campaign ads on commercial radio and TV stations, and forcing university students who accepted state scholarships to work in Hungary for years after they graduate.

Today, however, lawmakers from Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party are preparing to pass a lengthy amendment to the constitution that will entrench all those discredited policies and many others, ensuring that the government gets its way no matter what anyone says.

The amendment has alarmed the European Union, which over the past several months has forced Orban to dilute some of the laws meant to expand his control over everything from the central bank and the economy to the arts and the media.

The current argument is only the latest example of international criticism over government policies seen to be concentrating power in Orban's hands, paying lip service to democratic principles and expanding the state's role to the detriment of private enterprise.

On Friday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso spoke by telephone with Orban and sent him a letter expressing his concerns about possible conflicts between the planned amendment and EU laws.

"We trust that these contacts will ensure that our concerns are taken into account," commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told The Associated Press, adding that the intention was to avoid facing "any vote that would result in incompatibility with EU law ... and would make the time ahead more difficult."

In a written response to Barroso after their call, Orban confirmed "the full commitment" of Hungary's government and parliament to European norms, but gave no direct indication that today's vote on the amendment, which has more than 20 articles, would be delayed.

With most domestic challengers neutralized - Orban allies run the media council, the state audit office, the central bank and other key institutions - the prime minister has taken to lashing out at EU bureaucrats in Brussels.

Although 97 percent of Hungary's development funds over the past years have been provided by the EU, Orban has said Hungary won't allow itself "to be dictated to by anyone from Brussels or anywhere else."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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