The Venice Commission and the new Hungarian constitution

Yesterday there was a news item that surprised a lot of people, including me. MTI reported on a press conference held by Tibor Navracsics, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Administration and Justice. Navracsics said that he had met with delegates of the Venice Commission whom he had invited to Hungary to discuss Hungarian plans for drafting a new basic law. Moreover, he added, he wanted to receive "direction from the highly respected body concerning Hungary's future constitution."

First of all, what is this Venice Commission all about? The last time the Hungarian public heard about the institution was sometime around 2005 when it became known that, although Fidesz was supporting the referendum to grant citizenship to Hungarians living in the neighboring countries, earlier while in power they had assured the Venice Commission that giving "Hungarian identification papers" to ethnic Hungarians should in no way be construed as granting citizenship to Hungarians abroad.

I doubt that too many people knew then or know now what this mysterious Venice Commission is. Its full name is European Commission for Democracy through Law. It is the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters. Initially conceived as a tool for emergency constitutional engineering, the commission has become an internationally recognized independent legal think tank. It is composed of “independent experts who have achieved eminence through their experience in democratic institutions or by their contribution to the enhancement of law and political science.

According to its web site, Navracsics approached the Commission on February 18 asking "for the Venice Commission's assistance with respect to certain issues arising in the framework of the preparation of a new Constitution." The experts promised the "relevant opinion of the Commission" on March 25-26, 2011.

I decided to take a look at the political situation surrounding the drafting of the constitution about the time Navracsics decided to ask the Commission's assistance. Is this date at all significant? Indeed, it is. Because it was a few days prior to February 18 that both MSZP and LMP decided not to participate in further discussions about the constitution. Thus Fidesz, later joined by Jobbik, had sole responsibility for creating a new document. And that didn't look good. It is likely that at this point the Orbán government felt that they needed cover and decided to enlist the aid of an international body.

Let's see what Navracsics had to say about the visit of the Venice Commission's dignitaries. Why were they invited and what were they supposed to sanction, if anything? He emphasized three topics: the inclusion of some provisions of the European Constitution in the chapter on human rights, the current practice that anyone can ask the Constitutional Court for an opinion, and the question of public scrutiny of the text. As for the last topic, the members of the Commission thought that one and half months for creating a constitution "might be an inconvenience to the opposition parties." How delicately put by Navracsics!

From his press conference it became clear that he tried to counter this worry by telling his visitors that after all the necessity of creating a new constitution has been in the forefront of discussions ever since 1995 and thus there was plenty of opportunity to ponder over the details. This is of course not really true. Yes, in 1995 there was an attempt to write a new constitution, but the new basic law didn't pass in the House and since then there has been practically no discussion of the matter. Fidesz itself didn't talk about a new constitution in the last ten years. Over all, said Navracsics, "the Venice Commission found those basic principles and institutional solutions that will appear in the constitution as they are outlined in the current plans encouraging." So, Navracsics tried to convey the idea that the Venice Commission has given the new constitution its seal of approval.

What Navracsics wasn't counting on was that, as the Commission's website clearly states, the members of the delegation to Budapest were also planning to talk with leaders of the opposition. As it turned out from Ferenc Gyurcsány's blog this morning, he was one of the opposition leaders who had an opportunity to meet with the delegates.

The government's decision to get the Venice Commission on its side reminds Gyurcsány of a typical Fidesz ploy: to get a legal opinion on a few unimportant issues and then try to explain that a positive legal opinion on a part applies to the whole. The most famous or rather infamous use of this trick was in connection with the rather shady affairs of the Orbán family in the purchase and cultivation of a sizeable vineyard in Tokaj. Orbán and some of his cronies purchased a vineyard and used Orbán's position as prime minister to get extra money and special business deals. However, the whole conspiracy came to light when the estranged wife of one of the business partners spilled the beans.

The partners used to get together in Orbán's house for dinner and after dinner they discussed business. The "guys" retired "to hold a meeting of the corporation" while the wives took care of the dishes. That is what they themselves called these discussions. Once the story came to light and was published in ÉS Fidesz sued. The issue they picked wasn't the truthfulness of the report on the shady business practices but whether the discussions they held occasionally after dinner were official meetings of the corporation. The judge decided that they weren't. From there on Fidesz claimed that they had proof that the whole story was no more than a concoction. After all, the courts decided that Orbán was innocent.

According to Gyurcsány something like that is going on now with the Venice Commission and the constitution. The Venice Commission was asked to offer their opinion on the three points I mentioned earlier. Gyurcsány writes in his blog that is not free to share the opinion of the commission members on the constitution, but he can say that their mandate is restricted to these three not terribly important aspects of the constitution. Gyurcsány finishes his blog with these words: "I'm telling you now: if the government tries to cover its tracks with the Venice Commission and wants to make us believe that they received the stamp of approval of this highly respected international body they will be lying. As Fidesz lied in the Tokaj affair." 









  1. It is very simple, they put in some “measures” to make the preparing of the new constitution, like a legitimate a democratic affair.
    They started with “inviting everyone” to the table, continued with the request for the Venice Commission’s feedback, and they topped it off with a survey.
    The first one could not happen, as they created an environment where any :contribution” from any other party would of been just for the “show” without any substance. In the second step they forget to include all pertinent information, and as such actually they are misleading this International body. The third one, where they supposed to seek “feedback” from the Hungarian voters, concentrated on either overtly generalized questions that were not concrete enough to let the public know where Fidesz is coming from, like:
    “(3) Should the new constitution bring under its protection common values such as family, labor, home, order and health?” What idiot would answer would answer No, they should not protect family, labor and health?
    or they gave questions that would interfere with other countries, like
    “(9) Should the new constitution provide protection for the biodiversity of the Carpathian Basin?” 2/3 of it is outside the Hungarian borders.
    I hope the International community and the EU takes notes, and reads the small print!

  2. As for the “shady business” of Orbán, there wasn’t even a charge.
    I don’t know where you are taking your statement about getting extra money from, there was absolutely no such charge, not even claim.
    The slander campaign of ÉS, well paid by MSZP, was totally unable to come up with any meaningful claim. Their only plot was to cite Orbán before the court so that they could build a marketing campaign with the headline “Orbán before the court”.
    The results, the charges, and everything else were meant to be totally irrelevant. It’s only the court that mattered.
    And Fidesz deflected this attempt by exactly the same style of maneuver. What’s your problem with that?
    It is a twist of fate that now Gyurcsány has all the chances to go before the court, sooner or later not as a witness but as an accused. Now he is screaming “liar” at the top of his lungs, thinking that everyone in Hungary is as stupid as him or his sicko fans, having maybe forgot that he didn’t say one single true word during his sorry years in Hungarian politics. But he has failed miserably and will fail again.

  3. Johnny Boy, the reason people like you think (and insist) that only Gyurcsány and the MSZP lie, is that Fidesz is so much better at it.

  4. ..and he is back!
    Almost anything Orban and his government does is hogwash.
    There are no fair intentions. Let me ask something. If the Fidesz truly and for honest reasons wanted to hear the feedback from the Venice Commission, why did they held the whole thing under wrap? I mean, the government just loves to go out to the Hungarian people and tell them on and on how fantastic they are, even when they do not do something right (that is most often), they are out there and banging on the drums. AT the time when the Media Law is stirring on contriversy, when the opposite parties do not want to sit down and talk about this farce constitution, why wouldn’t Orban tell the press, and anyone who want’s or don’t won’t to listen that Fodesz approached the Venice Commission for a feedback on the proposed ideas connected to the new constitution? I thin the reason is that they were waiting to see what will come out of it. They were waiting to see, if they had to put their PR machine in high gear (which they are already doing.)
    How about the new economical package? Why was it necessary to have a version for the Hungarians and an other version for the outside world (and I am not talking about simple translation)?
    One more question about the honest Fidesz: If Fidesz is so great about keeping work at home, and making sure Hungarian companies are kept in the business? Why would they hire a PR firm for the UK to try to restore the image of Fidesz (although they just love to use Hungary’s image)? Is that image is that bad that Hungarians cannot help? IS Orban has no faith in the Hungarian firms? Isn’t that pathetic that Orban put extra taxes on legitimate foreign owned companies in Hungary, bit takes

  5. Johnny Boy wrote: “…having maybe forgot that he (Gyurcsány) didn’t say one single true word during his sorry years in Hungarian politics.”
    So his speech in Balatonőszöd was a lie? So when he said they lied, they didn’t lie?
    And you bozos rioted on the streets because he spoke the truth?
    Such primitive logic…

  6. Öcsi: certainly not as primitive as yours, as the Őszöd speech was not at all intended for the general public.

  7. You can’t have it both ways, my little tökfej. You wrote that he “didn’t say one single true word.”
    Now you’re putting on qualifiers. You are getting more pathetic by the day…

  8. Öcsi: doesn’t it feel for you shameful to support a chronic liar? I guess it suits your view of the world.

  9. So, I just reread my comment from 7:30 AM and it looks like a was typing in the dark. Sorry for or the typos!
    Öcsi: I agree with you. Orban wouldn’t even admit to his own party his mistakes, and he had many. He tells Hungarians different things and tells the foreign agencies another. It happens over and over, but his followers are blindsided, and they do not recognize what is right in front of them (or they do not understand any foreign language, and believ only in the Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hirlap).

  10. @Johnny Have you read about one of your FIDESZ brothers, Kerenyi (FIDESZ member of the parliament), who lied to the journalist in the parliament, then lied again when he was asked about it:
    Don’t you see that you are slowly becoming a one man army? Jump ship bro while you can ..

  11. @Mutt: “one man army”, you, a very small extremist minority, say this to me, who represent the majority of the electorate in Hungary… you surely know how to amuse me.
    And I envy your problems with the Fidesz smoker. I think the problems we had with your pet Gyurcsány were somewhat bigger.

  12. Hey, Johnny Boy, why did Navracsics invite the Venice Commission to Hungary?
    Was it to give its blessing to the new Hungarian constitution, which is not a people’s constitution but a Fidesz/Jobbik hatchet job? Or were they invited to provide a convenient cover for Orbán’s ongoing embarrassments?
    I’m sure it’s the latter because, so far as I can tell, Fidesz doesn’t give a rats ass about what any think thank thinks.
    So what’s your take on the Venice Commissions visit to BP, Johnny Boy? What’s the official lie, er, I mean line?

  13. Johnny Boy: “I think the problems we had with your pet Gyurcsány were somewhat bigger.”
    I have the feeling that in no time you will find out that you were wrong. According to the latest estimates 1,000 billion ft is missing from the budget at the moment. And we are still at the beginning of the year.
    As for the majority you belong to, I have the suspicion that very soon this majority will melt away. Here is a good example. Pápa is certainly a Fidesz city. In the last twenty years it was the same Fidesz mayor who won every election. Since he got a new job he had to relinguish his position in Pápa. So, new elections were held. Here are the results from last year and this year:
    In October 2010 the Fidesz candidate received 65.41% of the votes, the MSZP candidate only 23.05%. Jobbik’s candidate received 11.54%. So, Fidesz and Jobbik together (right and far-right) received 76,95% of the votes.
    A few months later the same MSZP candidate received 35.15%, the Fidesz candidate 57.60% and Jobbik’s candidate 7.16%. Thus the right and the far-right together lost 13% while the MSZP candidate (the same Attila Gröber) got 12% more votes. Well, well. And this happened in Pápa!

  14. Watch out for the snares that Johnny sets. He is deflecting. Both sides are perfectly capable of lying. The Őszöd speech is irrelevant to the discussion here. We are talking about OV and Fidesz.

  15. When it comes to amusing and lying you are no slouch yourself, Johnny Boy
    Your maniacal ravings surely provide a great deal of amusement here, but your lies don’t.
    Fidesz doesn’t enjoy the support, contrary to your claim, of 53% of the electorate. What they enjoy, however temporarily, the support of 53% of the people who voted on that day. That, however, was far less than the totality of the electorate and 53% of those is even less.
    A modicum of objectivity, combined with the same amount of modesty, would surely reduce your amusement factor and increase your credibility that is presently using a firetruck’s ladder to rise to the frog’s ass.

  16. Back to the main topic, the Constitution. It does not matter to me why the Venice Commission is involved, since in the long run what matters is what’s in the Constitution. As far as I can see, there is way too much in it that is useless and irrelevant.
    My motto is KISS (keep it simple, stupid). Describe the state functions, what are the rights and obligations, how are people appointed or elected to their posts what happens if they resign, die or are found incompetent. Describe how the government functions. Who introduces bills, how are they debated, who approves them, who can appeal them and how?
    How are electoral districts apportioned and how are they kept up to date?
    What are the rights of citizens and how are these rights protected?
    As far as the infamous Preamble debate is concerned, why not simply say: “To create a more perfect Republic, the following Constitution is approved.” That’s enough.. That’s pretty much what the American founding fathers wrote and what they wrote stood the test of time for over 225 years.

  17. Öcsi: about official lies, I think your clock stopped a good year ago and you still didn’t recognize there was a government change in Hungary.
    I didn’t even know Navracsics invited the Venice Commission until I read the post on this blog. I wasn’t even aware of the existence of this Commission, albeit the name sounded somewhat similar.
    And, actually, I couldn’t care less if this no-name commission “approves” the new Constitution or not. The Constitution is our (Hungary’s) business, and ours alone. It declares who we are, where we are from, where we are going. And we don’t need foreign “help” on declaring that.

  18. It seems my answer to this was lost, so I’ll write it again.
    Johnny Boy you’re totally wrong – this is nothing new.
    The Hungarian constitution like all laws in the EU has to follow the basic principles of the EU (look them up yourself).
    Even Germany had to change some laws, like many other member states of the EU.
    But of course this is all irrelevant if Hungary should leave the EU, and the EC and the UN …

  19. wolfi: tell me how I am wrong by showing me how the new draft Constitution violates an EU law.
    By the way, a little off-topic: András Wahorn was fired from the left-extremist Klubrádió for having invited some right-winged guests. The hypocrisy is ridiculous that these “champions” of free speech (who all originate from a dictatorship anyway) are the first to violate the freedom of speech.

  20. Johnny Boy: “András Wahorn was fired from the left-extremist Klubrádió for having invited some right-winged guests.”
    Most likely he wasn’t fired because he invited right-winger. If he was fired because he is an uncouth racist.

  21. Johnny Boy again, you wrote:
    “And, actually, I couldn’t care less if this no-name commission “approves” the new Constitution or not. The Constitution is our (Hungary’s) business, and ours alone.”
    And that’s just not true – unless you want to leave/have left the EU …
    You really are more than an idiot!

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