Making Infringement Procedures More Effective: A Comment on Commission v. Hungary, Case C-288/12 (8 April 2014) (Grand Chamber)

scheppele, kimKim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University 

On 8 April, Hungary lost again at the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ). The European Commission had alleged that that Hungary violated the independence of its data protection officer and the ECJ agreed. The case broke little new legal ground.   But it is important nonetheless because it signals serious trouble within the EU.   The case exposes Hungary’s ongoing challenge to the EU’s fundamental principles. And it exposes the limitations of ordinary infringement proceedings for bringing a Member State back into line.

 The Commission may have won this particular battle, but it is losing the war to keep Hungary from becoming a state in which all formerly independent institutions are under the control of Fidesz, the governing party.   The Commission clearly sees the danger of one-party domination and it has attempted to challenge the Hungarian government before. But the Commission has so far not picked its battles wisely or framed its challenges well. It could do better. The case of the data protection officer is a case in point.  

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The Hungarian Dilemma from a Pluralist Perspective

untitledMatej Avbelj

[This piece was originally posted on the Verfassungsblog and is re-posted here with permission.  Readers may be interested in reading earlier posts on developments in Hungary, such as those by Kim Lane Scheppele here and here.]
The constitutional and political developments in Hungary in the last few years have stirred a lot of controversies and also raised significant academic attention. This blog has provided not only a wonderful forum for an exchange of different views, but it has also produced original and thought-provoking proposals for tackling the Hungarian problem.
However, the “reverse Solange” idea, the call for the establishment of a special Copenhagen Commission, for a straightforward supremacy of the Charter and other insightful proposals, all appear to be addressing the Hungarian dilemma from within the constitutional register. This is, of course, a legitimate choice, but it is neither exclusive nor neutral.
As the Lindseth-Halberstam exchange in particular demonstrated, the answers sketched for the resolution of the Hungarian dilemma are heavily dependent on the assumed or the desired character of the European Union.  Without engaging with the merits of the constitutional account of the European Union and without necessarily taking sides, I would like to use this post to explore – out of intellectual curiosity – the Hungarian dilemma from a pluralist perspective.

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Hungary’s power-grab should make the EU rethink its role

Jan-Werner Mueller

[This post originally appeared on the Guardian website and is reproduced here with kind permission and thanks.]

Despite stern warnings from Brussels, the Hungarian government is set to vote today on what is already the fourth amendment to a new constitution which only came into force last year. Both the European Union and the Council of Europe have called for at least a careful reconsideration of some of the changes envisaged by rightwing prime minister Viktor Orbán, which overturn constitutional court rulings and curb judicial power. The European Commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, has even hinted that they contravene EU law. Continue reading

“Constitutional renewal must be done by Hungarians for Hungarians”

Conversation between Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University and Gábor Halmai, ELTE Budapest and Princeton University. Part 1.

In the book we are writing, we try to understand how Hungary, one of the forerunners of the post-communist constitutional democracies has fallen back – to say the least – to an illiberal democracy, if not to an authoritarian regime, after twenty years of constitutional development.  In your posts on Paul Krugman’s New York Times blog you even went on to say that an unconstitutional Basic Law introduced a one-party police state.  Before going into the facts and reasons for democratic backsliding, how would you characterize the current Hungarian political and constitutional system after the new Basic Law and most of the so-called cardinal laws have come into effect?

The new constitutional order is not a rule-of-law state in its formal legal features, which is a serious step backwards for Hungary. A constitutional rule-of-law state requires three elements:  a guarantee that power can rotate among different political parties through free and fair elections, a guarantee that the elected government is constrained through a system of independent checks on power and a system for ensuring that individuals have meaningful rights that they can assert against the state so that they remain authors of their own lives. All three elements of constitutional government have been compromised with the new Hungarian constitution and the accompanying system of cardinal laws. That is why I have resorted to extreme descriptions.

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