Representatives of Hungary’s five parliamentary parties met last Friday to discuss the government’s planned anti-terrorism measures. Ruling Fidesz deputy chairman Gergely Gulyás said the talks were constructive and, despite some points of conflict, participants mainly saw eye-to-eye.
Government spokesman Zoltán Kovács said more talks are scheduled between the parties. He said there were no substantial differences of opinion and the outlines of an agreement were within reach.
Ministry of the Interior state secretary Károly Kontrát said lawmakers had approached the meeting professionally and they reacted responsibly to Minister Sándor Pintér’s proposals. Concerning the regulations on eavesdropping, he said the aim was to ensure that nobody should be able to bypass the law with the aid of new technical possibilities.
Kontrát said an important element of the talks concerned questions around the new Counter Terrorism and Crime Information Analysis Centre. Plans are for the centre, which would employ 130 people and collate and analyse secret services information, to come on line on July 1.
The radical nationalist Jobbik party called the talks productive. MP Ádám Mirkóczki said negotiations between the parties and the government looked promising because the ministry agreed to amend or clarify disputed points of the bill.
But Mirkóczki said that at the same time he was unsure of how much of the opposition’s proposals would be included in the government’s final proposal. He said there was a good chance Jobbik would support the bill if the government removes the passages on defence procurements and the restriction of mass gatherings.
Green opposition LMP said the talks were to the point and covered every detail of the anti-terror bill. Party co-leader András Schiffer said Pintér took a constructive approach to the talks and agreed to consider several of the opposition’s proposals, including those of LMP.
Schiffer said his party’s main concerns had to do with the government’s proposal to criminalise the encryption of telecommunications devices. He also criticised the passage dealing with defence procurements but added that there was a good chance LMP, too, would support the bill if this is removed.
The opposition Socialists will approve the government’s counter-terrorism package once guarantees for the rule of law are incorporated in it, the head of parliament’s national security committee, Zsolt Molnár, also a Socialist lawmaker, said on Saturday.
Molnár told public news channel M1 that he trusted the ministry would accept the criticism voiced at the five-party meeting. Among the proposals criticised by the opposition parties were the punishing of users of encrypted communication applications on IT equipment, he said.
The Socialists also raised objections against a potential ban on public events, stating that this would go against the right of assembly. Molnár said more detailed regulations are needed on data handling by national security organisations, and the linking of different data bases that allow access to up-to-date information related to terrorism.
He expressed hope that an improved package will include the Socialists’ proposals and omit what is “nonsense” from the professional point of view.
Threat to Hungary serious: PM
Hungary’s government takes the threat of terrorism seriously and has addressed the issue appropriately, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told Hungarian public media in Washington, DC last Friday. Asked by MTI about a recent article by The Washington Times quoting the Islamic State as saying it could target Hungary in the future, Orbán said it was “impossible not to take such a threat seriously”. He said Hungary was discussing the potential threat with the relevant US and European Union authorities: “Over the past few days Hungary’s police force, secret service and counter-terrorism service have done everything they could to strengthen the country’s security.” Orbán expressed hope that the government’s planned anti-terrorism measures would win the backing of the opposition parties. He said he generally had “a better opinion” of Hungary’s political leaders, including those of the opposition, than the general public, and he expected that a consensus would eventually be reached on the counter-terrorism bill.
Belgian expert: attack warning credible
It is possible that Hungary will be exposed to a terrorist attack, Belgian Middle East expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen told the Saturday issue of daily Népszabadság. The European network of the Islamic State terrorist organisation has remained intact even during the wave of arrests that followed the Paris and Brussels bombings, he said. As no European country involved in the fight against the Islamic State could feel secure, the threats addressed to Hungary and Portugal should be taken seriously. Both countries might be targeted, Van Ostaeyen said. The paper noted that Hungary had contributed 120 soldiers to the international force fighting the IS. Two platoons are involved in training and another two in guarding facilities in Erbil and its vicinity in northern Iraq. Hungary has also sent bomb demolition experts to help Kurdish fighters, it said.