Hungarian Bar Association: government is damaging confidence in the rule of law

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The Hungarian Bar Association condemned attacks on lawyers after the government defied court rulings ordering the state to pay compensation to prisoners experiencing inhumane conditions.

Chairman of the Bar Association János Bánáti told Reuters that the government had "affected confidence in justice and especially court decisions, and I must say, the rule of law".

"If the state can disobey rulings, people can later decide to skip paying taxes they deem unfair, or ignore a court ruling on child custody... That's the most dangerous aspect of this," Bánáti said.

According to the statement unanimously adopted by the Bar Association, the lawyers also object to statements made by government officials including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that "profiteering" lawyers were engaging in a "prison business" by bringing lawsuits against the state on behalf of the prisoners.

At an international press conference on January 9 and later in a radio interview, Orbán said the state would not comply with the courts' rulings, arguing that "clever, well-known groups of lawyers" were abusing legal regulations for profit. 

The government published a communiqué on Tuesday ordering payments to prisoners to be suspended "until the last legally possible date," suggesting that the state would pay the compensation despite public threats to the contrary by Orbán and other government officials. 

Orbán has also claimed that the government would not make court-ordered payments to Roma victims of school segregation in the town of Gyöngyöspata. 

Leaked report: 'wise men' to recommend Fidesz remain in EPP, extending its suspension

European People's Party president Donald Tusk announced on Twitter on Monday that he had received a report by a commission of "three wise men" sent to Hungary by the EPP to evaluate Fidesz's compatibility with the group's values. Tusk wrote that he would present his assessment of the report after consulting with party leaders at an EPP assembly in Brussels in early February. 

Meanwhile, a leaked report appearing in German Newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung suggested that the wise men had been unable to reach a consensus on what to do about Fidesz. Their recommendation to the EPP will reportedly stipulate that Fidesz remain in the EPP but will have its suspension extended pending policy changes from Viktor Orbán. 

The report indicates that Orbán, who met with the wise men only twice during their investigation, was uncooperative: he refused to budge on the issue of CEU, and appeared more amenable only on the introduction of public administration courts, a plan the government ultimately scrapped.

The EPP assembly will take place on February 3 and 4 in Brussels.

Fürjes criticizes state television over Karácsony interview

State secretary for Budapest development Balázs Fürjes wrote on Twitter Wednesday that an interview with Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony on public television channel M1 was "unacceptable for both the mayor and the people of Budapest".

The Fidesz politician was reacting to an interview on M1 Tuesday evening in which Karácsony was pummeled with questions by the host and rarely allowed to answer. 

A Fidesz politician openly criticizing public media, widely considered a publicly funded communication organ of Fidesz, is exceedingly rare. The interview was the first time the mayor was invited to a public media interview since he was elected in October. 

The host opened the interview by asking Karácsony what means of transportation he had used to travel to the studio. When Karácsony answered that he had come in an energy-efficient electric vehicle, the host spent several minutes arguing that commuting by bicycle and public transit as Karácsony has advocated is unrealistic.

Davos social mobility report places Hungary near bottom of EU

The social mobility index compiled by the World Economic Forum placed Hungary at 37th place among the 82 countries surveyed. The placement put Hungary in the 4th worst position in the European Union, ahead of Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. 

According to the World Economic Forum, "Social mobility can be understood as the movement in personal circumstances either 'upwards' or 'downwards' of an individual in relation to those of their parents." Low social mobility creates a situation in which "an individual’s opportunities in life remain tethered to their socio-economic status at birth, entrenching historical inequalities."

The countries of northern Europe continued to top the list with Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland in the top five. Countries in Hungary's cohort included Croatia at 36, Kazakhstan at 38, the Russian Federation at 39 and Bulgaria at 40.

Former BKK director named to head new Budapest development group

State Secretary for Budapest development Balázs Fürjes announced on Tuesday that former director of Budapest transit authority (BKK) Dávid Vitézy has been appointed to lead the Budapest Development Center (BFK).

The BFK will be responsible for facilitating cooperation between the government and City Hall on city planning, development and transportation. The non-profit company, which is owned by the Prime Minister's Office, is not a new entity but will be created by the transformation of the former Center for Priority Government Investments.

Vitézy was executive director of BKK between 2010-2014 but was fired by then-mayor István Tarlós. Following his election in October, Karácsony asked Vitézy to head BKK under his administration, an offer Vitézy declined. 

Some observers expressed concern that the creation of the BFK and Vitézy's appointment could represent the creation of an "alternative city hall" within the national government. One city hall employee told HVG, "If we come up with a transportation development proposal, Vitézy will come up with another. And who would dare to question his expertise? The government has won a trump card that could have been ours."

Karácsony wrote on Facebook Tuesday that he welcomes the creation of the BFK. "I'm also glad that Dávid Vitézy has been appointed to the post. I've said several times that I highly respect his expertise," he wrote.  

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