- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2013

The State Department joined European Union leaders this week in cautioning Hungarian lawmakers to tread carefully on controversial amendments to their nation’s constitution.

“These amendments deserve closer scrutiny and more deliberate consideration,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “They could threaten the principles of institutional independence and checks and balances that are the hallmark of democratic governance.”

Recent years saw harsh criticism leveled by the EU toward Hungary’s ruling Fidesz Party for pushing through a series of judicial, media, banking and religious laws. Many in Western Europe and the U.S. saw the laws as a sign that the nation was backpedaling on democratic advances it had made since emerging from communism two decades ago.

Among the more contested moves was a measure that significantly cut the number of churches that could receive support or recognition from the Hungarian government. The development prompted concern across much of Europe among religious groups.

A spokesman for the Hungarian government dismissed such concerns during an interview with The Washington Times last June, claiming that the international community was overreacting and that Budapest had unfairly become a “whipping boy” of the Western media.

But the issue reached further than media headlines.

Specifically, Hungary’s new religious law and other measures pushed through by Fidesz’s parliamentary supermajority were in conflict with international membership standards of the EU, which Hungary had joined in 2004.

The legal conflict prompted Fidesz leaders to drop some of the measures last year amid pressure from the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, and the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights body.

But the party in recent weeks has been pushing for a reinstatement of the laws — prompting new expressions of concern at the State Department.

“The United States urges the government of Hungary and the Parliament to ensure that the process of considering amendments to the constitution demonstrates respect for the rule of law and judicial review,” Mrs. Nuland said in a statement on Thursday.

She also called on Hungary’s parliament to show an “openness to the views of other stakeholders across Hungarian society, and continuing receptiveness to the expertise of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.”

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