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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungary’s government allies have passed controversial changes to the constitution, despite warnings they threaten religious freedom and other democratic values introduced after the collapse of Communism. Monday’s vote triggered angry reactions from the European Union and Hungarian activists.
Black flags hung from some windows of the Hungarian parliament building where the opposition said it was mourning the end of democracy.
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Farmotel Stefania is on the way to Slovenian and Croatian Adriatic sea coast.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s allies voted for a controversial lengthy amendment to the constitution.
The bill limits the powers of the Constitutional Court, one of the last institutions that could oppose the government.
It also enshrines policies that were previously struck down by the country’s top court, potentially increasing government influence over institutions such as churches in this heavily Catholic nation of some 10 million people.
Faith groups can only be recognized as churches by Parliament, currently dominated by the ruling Fidesz party, under condition that they “collaborate” with the state.
Critics said the meassures resemble Communist-era policies and are aimed at consolidating Orbán’s power over previously independent institutions such as churches as well as media, judiciary, central bank and universities.
Evangelical Christians fear Fidesz legislators want to reinstate policies rejected by the Constitutional Court including parts of a religious law under which only 32 of some 350 faith groups in Hungary received formal recognition by Parliament to operate as churches.
Gábor Iványi , head pastor of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, an independent Methodist congregation in Budapest, said the law could lead to “politically motivated decisions on recognition.”
Monday’s, vote opposed by the opposition, was also condemned by the Council of Europe and the EU.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso wrote that the amendment “raise concerns with respect to the principle of the rule of law, EU law, and Council of Europe standards.”
European Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen does not rule out sanctions against Hungary. “Our job is to make sure that EU law that member states have themselves signed up to is complied with,” she said.
“Ofcourse we have legal instruments at our disposal to make sure that is the case. I am notably referring to our infringement proceedings.”
Orbán dismisses the international criticism saying it has been fueled by “multinational big businesses”, including energy firms, who have been forced by the state to cut prices and to pay “crisis taxes”.
He also condemned a court ruling in a dispute over fees which favored private utility companies over the state energy office.
The 49-year-old Orbán, who faces elections next year, told Parliament that his government “does not accept the situation”
A visibly angry prime minister shouted: “We will fight and make new proposals … and utility rates will be cut even further and the companies will earn even less.”
Though Hungary received 97 percent of its development aid from the EU, Orbán says he does not accept “foreign interference” from people in “finely tailored suits” to write Hungary’s constitution, or ‘Fundamental Law’ as it is known here.
Several thousand Hungarians demonstrated late Monday, March 11, in front of the presidential palace urging the head-of-state, János Áder, not to sign the controversial constitutional amendment, following similar protests near the Parliament building.
Germany’s government also urged Áder to reconsider the constitutional changes, something the Orbán ally has already rejected.
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