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Orbán Gov’t to Propagate Traditional Families, Redefining Public Money in Constitutional Amendment Proposal

Péter Cseresnyés 2020.11.11.

Right after parliament had approved the extension of the state of emergency, the government submitted an amendment to the Hungarian Constitution on Tuesday. The proposal states that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man,” narrowly defining the concept of public money and renewing the section on the extraordinary legal order.

Further definition of the concept of family

The draft contains two amendments concerning the institution of family and raising children, further cementing the governing parties’ anti-LGBTQ attitude and conservative approach to families in the Constitution. The change is also a clear message to the recently unfolded debate in Hungary over the promotion of acceptance of gay people among children.

The proposal states that “Hungary protects the right of children to self-identify according to their gender of birth and ensures education according to the values ​​based on the constitutional identity and Christian culture of our country.” It also explicitly specifies that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man.”

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According to Justice Minister Judit Varga who submitted the proposal to parliament, this amendment “provides all children with an education based on the values of the Christian culture of Hungary and guarantees the undisturbed development of the child according to their gender at birth.”

Even though this part of the proposal seems symbolic at first glance, the government also submitted an omnibus act to parliament not long after which states that only married couples can adopt, single ones can only do so with ministerial permission. As we don’t yet know anything about the conditions of this permission, the combined changes could easily limit the chances of gay couples adopting children in Hungary.

New type of extraordinary legal order: state of war

The amendment also renews the Constitution’s part on the extraordinary legal order simplifying and reducing the types of them. Instead of the current six (state of national crisis, state of emergency, state of preventive defense, state of terrorist threat, unexpected attack, state of danger), only two will remain (state of emergency, state of danger) while a new one – state of war – will be introduced.

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The new regulation on the extraordinary legal order aims to strengthen the security of Hungary, increasing the responsiveness of the responsible government in connection with the changing future challenges, according to the Justice Minister.

New definition of public money

Another key point of the proposal is the definition of the concept of public money on a constitutional level.

“Public money is the revenue, expenditure, and due of the state.”

The official justification claims that the new definition will help to develop a uniform practice among constitutional bodies on what constitutes public money as they were often inconsequential in their former verdicts.

But the introduction of the restrictive interpretation of public money is in fact likely related to the former legal debate around the central bank’s Pallas Athene Foundations.

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The organizations financed by the National Bank of Hungary started a spending spree a few years ago, but refused to provide data about their finances. They claimed that the monies of the Pallas Athene Foundations were not considered public funds.

The Foundations since then have been fined HUF 84 million for systematically violating public procurement regulations after the Constitutional Court ruled that the funds with which they had been endowed constituted public money.

The suspicion is also reinforced by the fact that the amendment states that issues related to public-interest asset management foundations should be regulated by laws requiring a qualified majority.

A prime example of this type of organization is the Mathias Corvinus Collegium Foundation. The Orbán government mandated its talent development operation a public task this May, thus it received hundreds of millions of forints and an impressive real estate portfolio.

Some believe this alteration can also possibly affect those Hungarian former state universities that have recently become controlled by foundations set up by the government with most of the board members being Fidesz inner cirle figures, sometimes even ministers in the government.

Debates also surrounded the foundations behind sports academies– whether they have to release information on how they spend money acquired through tax rebates.

All in all, the new regulation could ultimately enable state-owned companies and state-financed foundations to easily hide their finances, arguing that the funds they had been endowed are not public money. Meanwhile, the law regarding these organizations cannot easily be replaced even after a change of government as they require a two-thirds majority. With this amendment, many believe that the government wants to secure some of the money even in case Fidesz loses the next parliamentary election.

Featured photo by Zoltán Balog/MTI