When an EU member state puts limits on freedom of expression in ways that clash with EU minimum standard regulations this can be brought to the European Commission. The EU can also put political pressure on a member state, which is what’s going on now. You can turn to the European Court of Human Rights if there is a case—for instance, if a blogger is fined under the new media law for violating the content regulations, and the case goes through all levels of the Hungarian courts. They can rule that the decision violates Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression. The Court might state that a certain piece of legislation is not in line with the Convention and can impose heavy fines on the Hungarian government.
Fidesz recently passed a law limiting the Constitutional Court’s powers after the Court ruled against the government over a controversial new pension tax. Given Parliament’s efforts to eliminate the court’s balance-of-power role, why bring your challenge to this particular court?
At the moment, the Constitutional Court in Hungary is the only court with the power to nullify this kind of law. Freedom of expression in Hungary in the last twenty years has been a very important issue, taken very seriously by the court, for obvious historical reasons. Every government since 1990 has submitted laws limiting freedom of expression and the court usually has decided on behalf of freedom of expression.
The government plans to submit a new constitution this spring, which many worry could further weaken the Constitutional Court and Hungary’s balance-of-powers system. What will happen then?
We have no idea what kind of civil rights the new constitution will safeguard, whether or not we will have a Constitutional Court or what kind of powers it will have. We have been criticizing the constitution re-writing process, as we believe the current constitution ensures the proper functioning democratic system based on respect for human rights and the rule of law for the first time in Hungary’s modern history. My hope is that the court would consider the petition before the new constitution is passed and that it would rule as it historically has, for freedom of expression.