chapter  2
Hungary: High hopes revisited
Pages 26

Preliminary observations The Hungarian Constitution2 is the outcome of the transition compromise of 1989. In 1989 the architects of the Constitution did not envisage European Union (EU) accession in 2004, although it was on the foreign policy wish list of the first democratically elected government. The accession process confirmed the seriousness of Hungary’s commitment to democracy, rule of law, protection of human rights and minorities – as enshrined in the ‘Copenhagen criteria’ – along with the durability of its fundamental constitutional institutions (Zielonka 2007: 162-3). A Europe clause was added to the Constitution (Article 2/A), and procedures were devised for parliamentary control over the government in EU affairs under the loose constitutional provision applicable to the relations between parliament and government in EU matters. By and large, however, EU accession left the already existing and operational constitutional infrastructure in place, without major alterations to the institutional framework. The behaviour of domestic constitutional actors did not change drastically when they came to handle EU matters, rather, by and large, EU matters tended to fall victim to regular Hungarian governmental operations. Hungary was an eager applicant and a well-performing candidate during the enlargement process. It was second to ratify the European Constitution, and first to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.3 Nonetheless, since accession its performance has severely worsened: by the middle of 2008 Hungary was rated as the worst performing member state in infringement procedures on the Commission’s Internal Market Scoreboard (European Commission 2008b: 7, 14, 21-2). The Hungarian government remains highly inefficient at responding to the Commission’s communications: with the lowest response rates in the EU, Hungary reacted only to some 68 per cent of letters of formal notice (taking over three months to respond, although the deadline is two months) and to only half of the reasoned opinions (taking almost 4.5 months on average with the two month deadline) (European Commission 2008b: 21). At the same time, Euroscepticism has reached previously unseen proportions. While the majority view in all member states had been that EU membership was beneficial to their county, 51 per cent of Hungarians were reported to hold the belief that ‘the negative aspects of [EU] membership outnumber the benefits’ (European Commission 2008d: 35).