The legislative process

The duties of the National Assembly

In laying out the main duties of the National Assembly, the Fundamental Law provides that it shall:

  • adopt and amend the Fundamental Law of Hungary;
  • adopt acts;
  • pass the central budget and approve its implementation;
  • authorise recognition of the binding force of international treaties falling within its duties and competences;
  • elect the President of the Republic, the members and President of the Constitutional Court, the President of the Curia, the Prosecutor General, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners for Fundamental Rights, and the President of the State Audit Office;
  • elect the Prime Minister and decide on any matter of confidence relating to the Government;
  • dissolve representative bodies operating in contravention of the Fundamental Law;
  • decide on a declaration of a state of war or on a conclusion of peace;
  • make decisions relating to any special legal order or to participation in military operations; and
  • declare a general amnesty.

The duties of the National Assembly have increased considerably since 1990. The number of items on the list of duties, which are enshrined in a variety of legal provisions, is close to five hundred.

The two primary functions of the National Assembly consist of legislation and monitoring the government.

Legislation

Proposed legislation may be submitted to the National Assembly by:

  • the President of the Republic,
  • the government,
  • every parliamentary committee, and
  • any Member of the National Assembly.

The significance of legislation

Historically, legislation is the earliest and most important function served by parliaments. This was particularly relevant for the National Assembly formed on 2 May 1990. Legislation appreciated in value and became a high priority in response to the historic effort to effect a regime change, to establish and solidify an institutional system for the rule of law and the market economy, and to re-position and continuously improve the entire legal system. The National Assembly thus became a de facto legislative body.

Drawing on the historical traditions of Hungarian law, the Fundamental Law provides the requirement to enact cardinal laws. Cardinal acts have two key features that differentiate them from other laws. Firstly, the Fundamental Law specifies the subject matter to be regulated in a cardinal act, and lists 32 items of that nature. Secondly, cardinal acts are unique in that any modification requires a two-thirds majority of the Members in attendance. Cardinal acts are the exclusive vehicle for the regulation of basic constitutional rights and the fundamental institutions of state administration. Like other laws, cardinal acts may not contravene the Fundamental Law and must be enacted in compliance therewith and in the spirit thereof.

Nevertheless, the National Assembly enacts most laws by a simple majority of the Members in attendance.

Law-making is the vehicle whereby Parliament underpins the performance of its other duties. For instance, the creation and the restructuring of the system of governance also require laws (such as the Fundamental Law itself, the Act on the Constitutional Court and the law enumerating the ministries). Tasks associated with foreign affairs and national defence are also implemented by legislative means (consider, for instance, promulgating international treaties and enacting the law on national defence). The National Assembly also relies on legislation to create the framework required to monitor the government. The National Assembly has created its own oversight bodies by making laws on, for instance, the State Audit Office, the duties and powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and the obligation of various bodies to report to the National Assembly in various forms.

The public nature of legislation

By enacting laws, the National Assembly confers rights upon citizens and assigns them certain obligations. Law-making Members are elected by voting citizens. All of this lends significance to citizens' familiarising themselves with the process of drafting and making laws. At present, the internet is the most suitable way to meet these expectations by reaching out to the widest possible audience. Ministries are obliged under law to publish on their websites the draft version of all laws they propose before submitting them to Parliament. The Act on the National Assembly confirms the provisions of the former Standing Orders by enacting specific provisions on the public nature of legislation. It requires that proposed legislation, proposed amendments and any related documents must be posted on the National Assembly website immediately upon submission. The protocols of committee meetings and plenary sittings and the broadcasting of plenary sittings on television allow everyone to monitor the legislative process and the manner in which Members participate.

The legislative process

The Fundamental Law and the Act on Legislation set forth the parliamentary process of law-making along with related rights and obligations, but the most detailed provisions are enshrined in the Rules of Procedure. The Fundamental Law reserves the right to propose legislation to the President of the Republic, the Government, parliamentary committees and Members of Parliament. Proposing legislation means that authorised parties submit to Parliament written drafted proposals along with an explanation. The Government submits most of the proposed legislation (around 55–60%), followed in terms of frequency by Members of Parliament and committees. Presidents of the Republic have rather infrequently exercised their right to initiate legislation. This only occurred during the 1990–1994 cycle. In terms of laws enacted, the share of the Government exceeds 90%. In addition to the right to propose legislation, the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly lay down a number of rights that strengthen the pronounced role of the Government in legislation. The semi-annual legislative programme of the Government fundamentally defines legislative themes and scheduling, and its governing majority allows the Government to place proposed legislation on the orders of the day, expedite the debate, hold detailed debates and adopt proposed legislation.

The supreme role of government in law-making is seen as a typical parliamentary model in Europe, and rightly so since governments can implement the objectives formulated in their programmes mainly by legislative means and since legislation creates the framework for programme implementation. After 1990, the National Assembly enacted 140 laws on average each year, but the most recent cycle has been much more productive (with an annual average of 215 laws in the 2010–2014 cycle).

Plenary debate and committee-level debate alternate in a specific sequence in the legislative process.

The legislative process

Stages of discussion  

Venue

General debate

Plenary sitting

Detailed debate

Meetings of standing committees

Proceedings of the Committee on Legislation

 

Meeting of the Committee on Legislation (which votes on amendments proposed by Members and drafts a summary report and summary of proposed amendments)

Debate on committee reports,

the supplementary summary report and

the summary of proposed amendments

Plenary sitting

Vote on the summary of proposed amendments and a closing vote

Plenary sitting

 

The process of debating proposed legislation comprises an alternating succession of debates in committees and plenary sittings. The Rules of Procedure lay out the exact order of proceedings.

Legislation as a member of the European Union

The legislative duties of the National Assembly were partially altered in response to Hungary's accession to the European Union, similarly to those of the parliaments of other Member States. Firstly, the nature and proportions of law-making changed, and, secondly, the scope of responsibilities of Parliament expanded to cover new elements.

First and foremost, changes were introduced in exercising (legislative) powers based on national sovereignty. The Fundamental Law, however, provides that the National Assembly, as the guardian of popular sovereignty, retains its function as the supreme legislative body; only some of its legislative powers have been transferred to the institutions of the European Union (the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council). This transfer of authority is not, however, tantamount to waiving those powers; it means that transferred competences are exercised jointly with other Member States via the institutions of the European Union (Article E)(3)).

A significant portion of the laws applicable in Hungary were adopted by EU institutions. The acquis communautaire has formed part of the Hungarian legal system since 1 May 2004, and Community law has priority over Hungarian law. The primary legal corpus of Community law is made up of treaties, while laws created through the legislative efforts of EU institutions are seen as secondary sources of law. There is no call for national regulation in areas regulated exhaustively by Community law and wherever the EU has exclusive competence. There are no exceptions, unless permitted by Community law. National parliaments retain their power to make laws in full or in part in areas subject to joint or national competence.

There are also new tasks associated with EU membership. Parliament is indirectly involved in EU level decision-making within the framework of specific procedures, and the Government cooperates with the National Assembly to develop Hungary's position in respect of draft Community legislation pertaining to specific areas (this is known as the scrutiny procedure). The Act on the National Assembly regulates cooperation between Parliament and the Government in matters relating to the European Union. More detailed rules are provided in the Rules of Procedure. These provisions divide the tasks of Parliament relating to the European Union between the National Assembly (in the plenary) and the Committee on European Affairs. When the scrutiny procedure applies, the Committee has final decision-making power. Government duties, however, are normally addressed to the plenary.

The transposition of directives into the national legal system has emerged as a new task. Directives oblige Member States to achieve a purpose, but it is the task of each Member State to select the method of implementation and integration into its own law. This obviously involves legislative duties. Since Hungary's accession, most items of proposed legislation have sought to achieve legal harmonisation. The second source of law comprises regulations. As these laws are directly applicable, they do not impose an additional legislative burden on national parliaments. However, binding Community decisions do impose a legislative duty on national parliaments.

Parliamentary resolutions

As a legislative body, the National Assembly passes normative resolutions in addition to enacting laws. As a parliamentary resolution is not a law, it may not grant rights to or prescribe obligations for citizens. Parliament is typically a legislative body, but it also passes resolutions to exercise some of its powers and to perform some of its duties. (Actually, the vast majority of parliamentary resolutions are not normative and are specific in nature to the election of various officers and members of committees and to approving reports.) Most of the normative parliamentary resolutions concern the adoption of various, normally longer-term plans, programmes and strategies. (Parliamentary resolutions cover, for instance, the National Programme for Environmental Protection, the National Health Promotion Programme, the National Regional Development Plan, the National Strategy for Preventing Community Crime and the long-term directions for developing Hungary's National Defence.) Parliamentary resolutions most frequently invite the Government to develop and submit proposed legislation or plans. Also, Parliament occasionally issues tasks to the Government or defines desirable government measures.