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Strasbourg, France (UPI) Jun 27, 2013
The Council of Europe's assembly this week opted not to put Hungary on a list of countries it officially monitors for adherence to rule of law standards.
The council, a 47-nation European Union adjunct body promoting unity through agreements on human rights and legal standards, announced Tuesday its parliamentary assembly had rejected a push to add Hungary to a list of nations such as Russia, Serbia and Ukraine that are regularly monitored for compliance.
The effort to monitor Hungary officially came as the nationalist government of President Victor Orban has been the target of harsh criticism it is backsliding away from democracy after enacting a series of rapid changes to Hungary's Constitution in a little over a year.
Although the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted in Strasbourg, France, not to monitor Hungary, members said they still have "serious and sustained concerns" about the extent to which Hungary is complying with the democratic principles called for under CoE treaties.
While resolving "to closely follow the situation" and "to take stock of the progress achieved" by Hungary, the assembly adopted a compromise authored by British PACE member Mike Hancock in which formal monitoring of the country was avoided, the Budapest newspaper Nepszava (The People's Voice) reported.
The compromise resolution, adopted on a 149-38 vote with 24 abstentions, noted the Hungarian National Assembly enacted the controversial Fourth Amendment to the Hungary's Constitution -- or Fundamental Law -- in March.
It was passed under a supermajority held by Orban's Fidesz party, allied with the right-wing Jobbik party. It reinstated regulations that Hungary's Constitutional Court had previously vetoed, triggering widespread concern about the erosion of checks and balances in the country.
One provision enables the government to levy taxes on citizens to pay for fines imposed by the European Court of Justice for violating their rights -- in effect, penalizing them twice. Another gave a government commissioner the right to transfer cases from one court to another, which critics say could lead to arbitrariness in the dispensation of justice.
A third provision restricts political advertising during campaigns to publicly owned media in a country where private media has an 80 percent audience share.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said this month the government is retracting the court-transfer provision because "it served as an excuse to attack the Hungarian judiciary as a whole and question its independence."
The CoE parliamentarians asserted that while several provisions of the Fourth Amendment "are a concern," the measures were adopted by a "democratic two-thirds majority" of the Hungarian Parliament.
PACE voted to reject monitoring even after receiving a critical report on the situation from members Kerstin Lundgren of Sweden and Czech Jana Fischerova, who visited Hungary three times, most recently in February.
Deputy Prime Hungarian Minister Tibor Navracsics told the MTI news agency the pair's report contained "political accusations" and wasn't based on legal opinions.
The European Parliament, meanwhile, is currently considering the so-called Tavares Report, written by Portuguese Green Party Member of Parliament Rui Tavares, which also asserts Hungary is losing its status as a democracy.
Democracy in the 21st century at TerraDaily.com
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