The National Assembly
The parliament of Hungary is called the National Assembly (Országgyűlés). The National Assembly holds its plenary sessions and committee meetings at the Hungarian Parliament Building located in Budapest.
There are 199 National Assembly representatives. National Assembly elections are held every four years in the months of April or May (see National Assembly election system). The most recent National Assembly election was held on April 8, 2018 (see 2018 National Assembly election).
Eight parties currently seat representatives in the National Assembly: governing parties Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party and opposition parties Jobbik, the Hungarian Socialist Party, the Democratic Coalition, Politics Can Be Different, Dialogue for Hungary and Together.
Fidesz founding member László Kövér has served as the speaker (chairman) of the National Assembly since August 2010. The speaker presides over plenary sessions of the National Assembly and represents the legislature at official ceremonies and other events.
The National Assembly has traditionally held two sessions per year: the spring session from February 1 to June 15 and the fall session from September 1 to December 15. The National Assembly frequently holds extraordinary summer and winter sessions in order to complete legislative duties that could not be finished during the regular sessions.
The National Assembly has customarily held plenary meetings on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning of each week during the legislature’s three-and-a-half-month regular sessions. National Assembly committees then meet on Wednesday and Thursday.
The National Assembly considers two types of legislation: regular laws requiring the approval of a simple majority of representatives for approval; and Cardinal Laws (sarkalatos törvény) requiring the approval of a two-thirds majority of representatives for approval.
The National Assembly may dissolve itself by majority vote. In this case, the president (currently János Áder) must call new National Assembly elections within 90 days.
The president may also dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections under two conditions: if the National Assembly does not approve his nomination for prime minister for a period of 40 days following the resignation or dismissal of a government; if the National Assembly or the three-member Budget Council do not approve the government budget for a given year by March 31 of that year.
National Assembly Rules of Procedure
On April 16, 2012, Fidesz-KDNP Naional Assembly representatives adopted Law XXXIV of 2012 regarding the legislature’s organizational, procedural and other regulations. This law stipulated three main changes to the National Assembly’s former regulations: first, the law prohibited representatives from engaging in outside paid work, including other state jobs, most significantly that of mayor, beginning with the 2014 parliamentary cycle; second, the law raised the base pay of representatives to 750,000 forints per month (2,518 euros per month on the date on which the law was passed) from 232,000 forints per month, though eliminated supplementary pay for committee membership, also beginning with the 2014 parliamentary cycle; and third, the law established the armed Parliamentary Guard (Országgyűlési Őrség) to oversee security at the Hungarian Parliament Building (source in Hungarian).
According to Hungarian political-research institute Policy Solutions, the increased base salary of National Assembly representatives in Hungary was still only the 20th-highest among parliamentary representatives from the 27 member states of the European Union in absolute terms, though was the 5th-highest among those in all European Union member states when compared to average national-income (source in English).
The Parliamentary Guard
The Parliamentary Guard (Országgyűlési Őrség) was inaugurated on January 1, 2013 in order protect the speaker of the National Assembly, ensure the security of the legislature and in extreme cases enforce the body’s procedural rules. The Parliamentary Guard operates under the command of the speaker of the National Assembly, replacing the Interior Ministry-controlled Republican Guard Regiment (Köztársasági Őrezred) that the Orbán government abolished on July 1, 2012 (source in Hungarian). National Assembly Speaker László Kövér appointed former Republican Guard Regiment official Lieutenant-Colonel László Tóth to head the 350-member armed force. The Parliamentary Guard considers itself to be the successor of the House of Representatives Guard (Képviselőházi Őrség) that operated from 1913 until 1945 (source in Hungarian). Unlike the Republican Guard Regiment, the Parliamentary Guard is not responsible for the security of the president and the prime minister.
Fines for Offensive Speech
On December 17, 2012, Fidesz-KDNP National Assembly representatives adopted an amendment to body’s procedural regulations authorizing the legislature to fine representatives up to one-third of their monthly salaries based on the recommendation of the speaker if they utilized language or other forms of expression in the course of parliamentary debate or committee meetings that represented a “flagrant insult” to the authority of the National Assembly or to the dignity of an individual or group, particularly that of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group (source A and B in Hungarian).
Representatives adopted this amendment in response to a statement in the National Assembly from Jobbik Deputy Caucus Chairman Márton Gyöngyösi in the National Assembly on November 26, 2012 that it was time to “Determine how many people of Jewish origin there are, particularly in the Hungarian National Assembly and the Hungarian government, who represent a certain national-security risk for Hungary” (source in Hungarian).
The Land Law Protest
During voting on the new Fidesz-KDNP-supported Land Law on June 21, 2013, nearly all the members of the Jobbik caucus occupied the speaker’s platform and displayed a sign reading “Passage of Hungarian Land into the Hands of Foreigners: Treason!” (A magyar föld átjátszása idegeneknek: hazaárulás!) while chanting “traitors!” (hazaárulók). Meanwhile Politics Can Be Different (LMP) representatives displayed a sign reading “Land Distribution Instead of Land Robbery!” (Földrablást helyett földosztást!) while shouting criticism of the law through a megaphone (source in Hungarian).
Speaker László Kövér asserted after the incident that the Jobbik-LMP protest had been aimed at forcing him to call upon the intervention of the Parliamentary Guard in order to restore order in the session chamber, adding that “I will not do [them] that favor.” Kövér claimed that there had not been such a big disturbance inside the Hungarian Parliament Building since an opposition representative fired three wayward shots at Prime Minister István Tisza inside the session chamber in 1912 (source in Hungarian). Other commentators compared the Jobbik-LMP protest against the Land Law rather to the opposition’s destruction of benches and tables at the National Assembly session chamber in 1904 to protest Prime Minister Tisza’s violation of parliamentary procedure in the course of the so-called “handkerchief vote” in order to enact new regulations aimed at breaking filibusters (source in Hungarian).
The National Assembly subsequently fined 40 Jobbik representatives and three Politics Can Be Different representatives for their participation in the protest (see details below).
Amendments to National Assembly Rules of Procedure
On February 13, 2014, National Representatives from the Fidesz-KDNP party alliance approved new National Assembly procedures to come into effect at the beginning of the 2014–2018 parliamentary cycle. The amendments to Law XXXIV of 2012 stipulate the following changes (source in Hungarian):
-eliminates detailed debate (részletes vita) on proposed legislation;
-authorizes National Assembly representatives to decide how often to meet during the annual three-and-a-half-month sessions;
-prohibits representatives from displaying “visual aids” (szemléltető eszköz) during plenary sessions of the National Assembly unless the legislature’s procedural committee approves them beforehand;
-and requires National Assembly representatives to stand when the speaker enters the session chamber.
Speaker László Kövér on Government by Decree
National Assembly Speaker László Kövér made several statements in the September of 2013 suggesting that the government should assume some of the legislative duties of the National Assembly through the proclamation of decrees.
Köver said during an interview on InfoRádio on September 9, 2013 (source in Hungarian):
I would consider it normal regardless of what kind of governments there will be in the coming cycles if parliament would maintain its prerogative to frame only the most fundamental laws and would provide the government with authority for four years.
Kövér also said during the interview (source in Hungarian starting from minute 21:00):
It would be worth considering over the long-term if it wouldn’t be good to give the government a greater mandate, greater room to maneuver so that it can react to the everyday challenges and vibrations of life and to relax the obligation of the legislative branch stemming from the mistrust and suspicious attitude toward authority in the post-dictatorial period . . . . As a result of this, a practice emerged that we want to regulate everything according to law. . . .
Kövér told the newspaper Zalai Hírlap in an interview published on September 11, 2013 (source in Hungarian):
It is the duty of the legislative branch to regulate basic living conditions. The question is what constitutes “basic.” The way I see it today, the Hungarian legislative branch exceeds the optimal boundaries both in terms of the designation of legislative subject-matter as well as the detail with which certain legislation is addressed. After more than two decades of experience as a National Assembly representative I can say that it would be worth it for us to commit ourselves to having the parliament leave the government greater room to maneuver and to not want to regulate everything by law and devote more of its energies to oversight of the executive branch for which it has very little energy now, just as over the past twenty years. Therefore require the government to give account of its work more frequently, be more strict in following how it has used the authority that it received. This could only be called “government by decree” within quotation marks.
Removal of the European Union Flag from the Session Chamber
National Assembly Speaker Kövér ordered the removal of European Union flags that Hungarian Socialist Party representatives erected alongside Hungarian flags in the National Assembly session chamber on several occasions in November 2014 (source A and B in Hungarian). After having such a flag removed on November 17, Kövér said “I understand that my socialist fellow representatives can always only bear the Hungarian national flag together with a flag of another color, either red or blue—but this is the Hungarian national parliament” (source in Hungarian).
European Court of Human Rights Rules that Fines Violate Freedom of Expression
On September 16, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ruled that the fines imposed on Szilágyi, Karácsony, Dorosz, Szabó, Osztolykán, Szél and Lengyel for displaying protest signs in the National Assembly in May and June of 2013 had violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing the freedom of expression. The Council of Europe court—not to be confused with the EU’s European Court of Justice also located in Strasbourg—ordered the state of Hungary to pay damages of 4,250 euros each to Szilágyi, Karácsony, Dorsz and Szabó and 4,370 euros each to Osztolykán, Szél and Lengyel as well as total court costs of 10,500 euros (sources A and B in English).
The European Court of Human Rights upheld the above verdict in May 2016 following an appeal from the state of Hungary (source in Hungarian).
Last updated: May 9, 2018.