Hungarian news portal Mandiner.hu recently published an article by András Stumpf accusing former US embassy chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend of lying in an earlier interview published by Heti Válasz, where Stumpf previously worked.
The Heti Válasz (Weekly Answer) article, which was published on December 3, 2014, quoted Goodfriend as saying that “[the US government] only addresses issues of shared values. We won’t say which is the right party, what the laws have to be, or what the tax rate should be. Speaking about common values is totally acceptable in a country that is a partner of value-based organizations and an ally”.
Stumpf claims that a US State Department “non-paper” he somehow managed to obtain demonstrates the US government’s desire to “boss Hungary around”.
The 27-point “non-paper” is dated October 21, 2014 — the day Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó met US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland in Washington, D.C. It contains a lengthy checklist of changes the United States would like to see take place.
It was not the first attempt on the part of the US State Department to express concerns on democratic backsliding to its NATO ally. In October 2011, then-US ambassador to Hungary Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis reportedly delivered a “verbal démarche” to the Hungarian prime minister.
The Hungarian government and pro-government media have consistently portrayed Goodfriend as an American diplomat turned rogue Hungarian opposition leader. The reality is that his attempts to engage in dialogue with Hungarian leaders regarding US concerns on democratic backsliding in Hungary were in line with those voiced by the State Department. Blaming Goodfriend for the Hungarian government’s failure to respond to these concerns in a constructive manner with a view to improving bilateral relations with the United States is misleading and disingenuous.
Stumpf’s article suggests that Hungary, as a recent gesture of good faith toward the United States, changed its position on the controversial Church Law of 2011. The reality is that Hungary must change the discriminative law because it was struck down by the European Court of Human Rights, and not because the United States was critical of it.
Stumf’s article contains the following 27-point non-paper:
– End harassment and intimidation of independent civil society, including by ceasing investigations, audits, and raids of organizations receiving European Economic Area-Norway Grants funds and Swiss funds, returning seized documents and IT-equipment (and other seized property) to raided and audited organizations, and immediately reinstating suspended tax licenses.
– Publish online all information of KEHI [Government Control Office] audits and government investigations of NGOs in order to make it available to the public.
– Publicly promote civil society, human rights, checks and balances, and unrestricted space for political opposition.
– Allow civil society to operate freely and independently.
– Broaden incentives for private and corporate donations to NGOs.
– Require meaningful input from an inclusive spectrum of civil society and the business community in public policy development and implementation, including on human rights, equality, and transparency in government.
– Ensure unbiased and transparent functioning of National Cooperation Fund with nonpartisan board and clear guidelines for grants and evaluations.
– Give opposition and other non-Fidesz loyalists a role in public policy (enhances checks and balances):
– Require oversight bodies to be made up of independent subject matter experts rather than political nominees, and that a certain number of slots be reserved for appointment by opposition.
– Constitutional Court appointment process should revert to pre-2010 ad hoc committee requiring agreement of two-thirds of the parties.
– Implement clearly defined and transparent procedures requiring issues of public interest to be addressed through meaningful consultation and input from all relevant experts and stakeholders.
– Legislative process: Build in hearings, debates, meaningful consultations with subject experts and civil society, and opportunities for amendments.
– Pass law that ensures long-term economic commitments and other matters of public interest are decided with transparency, substantive public input, and realistic opportunity and sufficient time for open debate and feedback.
– Rescind advertising tax, which is discriminatory and market-distorting.
– Require that state advertising budget be distributed evenly across major media outlets rather than to outlets aligned with the government party.
– Require all-party representation on media council and shorten terms.
– Amend legislation on criminal penalties for libel, including to rescind all criminal penalties for defamation and make it a civil matter.
– Remove media council’s ability to levy fines and penalties for unbalanced coverage, which gives media council excessive control over content.
– Remove regulations that allow state broadcasters to run campaign ads but oblige commercial media to run ads for free.
– Incentivize diversity in ownership and pluralism of views in media.
– De-consolidate management and funding of public media and shield public media outlets from political pressure on content, to encourage independence.
– Ensure the political independence of the media council.
– Implement all OSCE/ODIHR [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] election recommendations, including: Amend law to ensure election commissions enjoy broad political consensus.
– Put in place safeguards to ensure a clear separation between the state and party. „Campaign finance”.
Courts and administrative rules:
– Rescind law that civil servants can be dismissed without justification.
– Strictly enforce prohibitions of political pressure of influence on judges.
– Reinstate the right of Constitutional Court to rule on substantive constitutionality of proposed amendments to the Fundamental Law.
– Reinstate the right of Constitutional Court to use jurisprudence from 1990-2011 as case law.
– Move appropriate matters from cardinal laws into regular statutes.