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Hungary toughens anti-terror laws

| June 14, 2016

In a proactive move to address the threat of terrorism, the Hungarian Parliament amended the Fundamental Law last Tuesday to allow the national assembly to declare a state of terrorism threat and grant temporary, extraordinary powers to the government.

When the discussion of these amendments began back in January, only a few weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán laid out the rationale, saying that “the government has resources that it would use in order to reduce the level of terror threat, but the laws do not allow that.”

“The most important thing in public life is the safety of the people,” the prime minister said then, “and we ask the Parliament’s support to give us these tools, which western European governments already have.”

The amendment to the constitution was adopted with 153 yes votes, 13 no votes and one abstention (Hungary’s Socialist Party did not take part in the vote). It gives a clear legal framework for Parliament, at the government’s initiative, to declare a state of terrorism threat for a fixed term of 15 days in the event of a significant or direct threat of a terrorist attack. Parliament may also authorize the Cabinet to take extraordinary measures in such a case.

 A vote of two-thirds of the attending members of parliament is required to declare or extend a state of terrorism threat.

Under a state of terrorism threat, the government may rule by decree, suspend certain laws at its discretion, expand the force of others, and may adopt extraordinary measures. Specifically, those extraordinary measures may include the authority to deploy military forces in cases where police and national security services are deemed insufficient. Curfews, tightened border controls, evacuations, the prohibition of public events, and heightened surveillance of the post and internet are some of the other measures authorized by the amendment.

Such measures have precedence, of course, and calls to streamline and coordinate Europe’s law enforcement and counter-terrorism procedures are not new. As far back as 2005, the European Council spelled out a strategy to prevent, protect, pursue and respond in order to combat terrorism. In particular, “to manage and minimize the consequences of a terrorist attack, by improving capabilities to deal with: the aftermath; the coordination of the response; and the needs of victims.” Fast forward eleven years and the policy remains in place, virtually the same except for a recent update highlighting the threat of foreign fighters. It soberly notes: “Between 2009-2013 there were 1010 failed, foiled or completed attacks carried out in EU member states, in which 38 people died.” This number has increased drastically since then, especially after the attacks earlier this year in France and Belgium.

Also accepted by a majority vote on Tuesday, as part of its commitment to fight terror, was a package submitted by the Ministry of Interior in January that would, among others, transform Hungary’s Counter Terrorism Center (TEK) into the Counter Terrorism Information and Criminal Analysis Center (TIBEK) with new resources that will better enable it to identify threats and prevent suspected acts of terrorism. Information gathering and sharing with our international partners will play an increasingly important and indispensible role in the years to come. The legal and infrustructural conditions are now guaranteed.

In step with increased policing and border controls, and tough lessons learned from the terrorist attacks in Europe, we want to provide Hungarians the same level of protection and security that other Europeans enjoy. This amendment closes a gap in the Fundamental Law by establishing the legal framework for the Cabinet to better manage and coordinate the response to a threat of terrorism or possible terrorist attack.