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European Union

Hungarian premier Orban rejects constitutional criticism

Hungary’s prime minister has rejected criticism from the European Union over changes to the country’s constitution. The EU and others fear the changes threaten Hungary’s democracy.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban responded to a reporter's question in Brussels on Thursday by denying that the constitutional amendments were anti-democratic or contrary to EU regulations.

"Who is able to present even one single point of evidence, facts, may I say, which could be the basis for any argument that what we are doing is against democracy?" the conservative politician said. "Without facts there is no sense of any general political discussion," he added.

Orban was in Brussels for summit talks with his fellow EU leaders, which were to focus mainly on fiscal issues. However, he was almost certain to face more questions about the constitutional changes, which critics say reduced the power of Hungary's constitutional court.

Prior to the start of the summit, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said he would express his concerns during a speech to the EU leaders.

“But I will also tell the heads of government that they would do well to discuss the situation in Hungary with Mr. Orban personally,” Schulz said.

Schulz, a German Social Democrat, also warned that if a European Commission team studying the constitutional amendments finds them to be in breach of EU regulations, Hungary could be suspended from the 27-member bloc.

“We will see what the Commission presents [to us],” Schulz said. “And if there are real breaches of European law, then one must consider an Article 7 process,” he said, referring to a provision that allows the EU to suspend member states for breaching the bloc's founding principles, including democracy and human rights.

Earlier in the day, Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, also cited Article 7, but didn't bring up suspension, instead mentioning the possibility of using it to cut aid to Hungary.

“The Commission is the guardian of the treaties and as such cannot look on idly when the foundations of these treaties are trodden upon,” Reding told reporters during a visit to the German capital.

Also in the Berlin on Thursday, German parliamentarians discussed the changes to the Hungarian constitution. Although members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative coalition government expressed concerns about the situation in Hungary, the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) accused her of being too soft on the issue.

SPD parliamentarian Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister, demanded that the EU summit's closing statement contain “more than just an expression of concern.”

Orban's conservative Fidesz party used its two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament to pass the constitutional reforms this past Monday. Apart from curbing the powers of the constitutional court, they included a number of other controversial provisions, including one that would make it illegal to sleep on the streets.

President Janos Ader has said he would sign the changes into law as he this was the "only constitutional choice."

pfd/rc (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)