Constitutional Court strikes down proposed changes to law on state ground

June 2, 2015

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Hungary’s Constitutional Court has struck down a bill modifying the law governing state ground assets.  The bill was adopted by parliament at the end of April but not signed into law by President Janos Áder.  Instead, sensing that certain provisions of the bill were unconstitutional, including its method of adoption, Áder referred it to the Constitutional Court for so-called “preliminary control”.

The law would have transferred from the National Park Directorate (NPI) to the National Ground Fund Manager (NFA) responsibility for managing protected state-owned lands in the interest of “simplifying” the management of different types of state land.

Because the original law modified so-called cardinal laws, it required a two-thirds majority to pass. When the original bill failed to muster the necessary votes, it was supposedly shorn of its cardinal provisions and resubmitted as a regular bill, which was then adopted by a simple majority vote.

The Constitutional Court ruled on Monday that the method by which the modified bill was adopted was unconstitutional in that it modified cardinal laws and, as such, required a two-thirds majority to pass.

The court also ruled unconstitutional the bill’s provision transferring the management of protected state lands from the NPI to the NFA.  The court ruled that while the system of state-owned ground management can be modified, such modifications may not decrease the level of environmental protection given protected lands.

While the court did not rule out the possibility of responsibility for protected areas being transferred to third parties or even to private individuals, it said that in this case the legal obligation of third parties to protect the land would have to be strengthened so as to prevent any decrease in the level of protection.

Nor did the court find unconstitutional provisions terminating existing rental or right-of-use contracts.

Environmental NGOs welcomed the court’s decision. The WWF, the alliance of Hungarian environmental protections, and Association of Hungarian Ornithological and Environmental Protection issued the following joint statement:

“Today’s Constitutional Court decision gives new hope to domestic environmental protectionists. The law on the management of state-owned protected grounds has failed, and the will of experts and people have prevailed over the quick economic speculation. The environmental protectionists expect the government to respect the Constitutional Court’s decision and to abandon its intention to weaken the national park directorate.”

The Orbán government has announced that it will respect the decision of the court.  (We take this to mean that it will not seek to modify Hungary’s Fundamental Law in order to circumvent the court as it has on various occasions in the past.)