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Constitution controversy

April 25, 2011

Hungarian President Pal Schmitt has signed the country's controversial new constitution despite objections from human rights campaigners and opposition politicians, who say it fails to protect citizen's rights.

The president signs the constitution
The ruling party easily pushed through the new constitutionImage: AP

Hungary's President Pal Schmitt signed the country's controversial new constitution on Monday, which is seen by opponents as a violation of basic human rights on issues like abortion, gay marriage and prison sentencing.

Schmitt signed the new constitution live on television before attending a gala concert to celebrate the event.

"A basic law has been created that is understandable to all: At once Hungarian, national, modern and European," Schmitt said.

Fidesz, the conservative party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has been accused by the opposition of using its two-thirds parliamentary majority to push through its own constitution without cross-party consensus.

Protesters against the constitution
The document has caused consternation at homeImage: picture alliance/dpa

Under the new constitution, future governments will be barred from passing budgets that increase the national debt until that debt has been brought to under 50 percent of gross domestic product.

The country's name will change from the "Hungarian Republic" to simply "Hungary," though it, in fact, remains a republic.

Problematic clauses

Rights group Amnesty International criticized the new constitution, saying it violated basic human rights.

"Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the new constitution of the Republic of Hungary ... violates international and European human rights standards," it said in a statement released in Budapest on Friday.

Amnesty saw as "particularly problematic" clauses on the protection of life from conception, the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, as well as the exclusion of sexual orientation from the protected grounds of discrimination. It also said that a clause allowing for life imprisonment without parole contravened international standards.

Concerns in Brussels

Amnesty urged the European Union "to ensure the compliance of Hungary with European standards on non-discrimination."

Pal Schmitt shakes hands with Jose Manuel Barroso
President Schmitt may encounter coooler ties to the EU in futureImage: AP

Left-wing and liberal members of the European Parliament called last Wednesday for an emergency review of the legislation, which they say fails to protect citizens' rights and reduces legislative checks and balances.

Despite protests from opposition parties, the new constitution was adopted by parliament last week. Socialist and Green party politicians boycotted the parliamentary debate, while nationalists voted against it after their proposals were overruled by government lawmakers.

Hungary's government argues that the constitution enshrines the principles of the EU's charter of fundamental rights and was a necessary replacement for an outmoded "Stalinist" document that dates from 1949, although it had been completely re-written since then.

The new constitution will enter into force on January 1, 2012.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner