Orban Shows Softer Side by Removing Controversial Court Chief

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(Bloomberg) -- Hungary will replace the controversial head of its judiciary, the latest sign that Prime Minister Viktor Orban is trying to quell rule-of-law concerns in the European Union member.

Orban’s party on Monday nominated Tunde Hando to become a justice on the Constitutional Court, effectively cutting short her tenure as the powerful administrative head of the judiciary. The wife of a European lawmaker from the ruling Fidesz party, Hando faced criticism over judicial appointments and an oversight committee previously recommended her impeachment.

“The government doesn’t want a war over the judiciary,” Agoston Samuel Mraz, head of the pro-Orban Nezopont Intezet, a political research institute in Budapest, said by phone. “With the ongoing EU probe, it’s in the government’s strategic interest to put to rest rule-of-law issues.”

Orban, who’s centralized power to an unprecedented degree in the EU since his return to power in 2010, has backpedaled on several of the issues at the center of the bloc’s probe into the erosion of democratic standards, which has threatened billions of euros in subsidies. In May, Orban scrapped a plan to carve up the supreme court, which would’ve boosted his government’s influence over the judiciary.

Orban, who this month suffered his worst electoral setback in more than a decade, is also angling to retain his party’s membership in the European People’s Party, the center-right bloc that includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party.

The EPP in March suspended Fidesz’s membership indefinitely, citing rule-of-law concerns. European Council President Donald Tusk, an Orban-critic, is widely expected to become the group’s new president next month. A decision on whether the Hungarian ruling party can stay in the center-right fold will be one of the first issues he’ll have to confront.

“Orban doesn’t want to keep anything on the agenda that may serve as a pretext for the EPP to expel Fidesz,” said Mraz, the political analyst. “He wants to make sure that discussion about EPP is purely ideological and not based on facts.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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