Statement of the Ombudsman for Future Generations
Ombudsman for Future Generations Dr. Gyula Bándi draws attention to the Constitutional Court decision of great importance, which was issued on 15 June 2020, and which reinforced that it is the obligation of everyone to protect the common heritage of the nation, both the Fundamental Law of Hungary and the example set by our predecessors oblige us to preserve the biological diversity of forests, and that the interests of forest managers should never overshadow environmental considerations.
It is underlined by the decision adopted by the Constitutional Court that based on the provisions of the Fundamental Law of Hungary concerning the alliance and principle of trust between the present and future generations, everyone is expected to take part in the preservation of the natural values that constitute the basic conditions of human life, especially biological diversity. No currently relevant economic interest of the present generations may override this shared interest, which is basically the maintenance of the basic conditions of human existence.
The Constitutional Court highlighted that “a forest is the most complex natural (ecological) system of the mainland, which is the basic condition for human life, primarily due to its impacts on the environment […] Because of all this, the preservation and protection of forests are in the best interests of the state and the entire society, every person is entitled to use the services provided by the forests for protection and public good, this is why forests may only be utilized in a way that is regulated in harmony with public interests”.
Mostly, the Constitutional Court agreed with the motion filed by the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights at the initiative of the Ombudsman for Future Generations and it annulled all those amendments which essentially eliminated the nature protection guarantees restricting the enforcement of economic interests of forest managers and forest owners in protected natural areas and the areas that belong to the Natura 2000 network, and which allowed that the necessity of the restrictions be disregarded.
It was reinforced by the Constitutional Court that the legislator, protecting the interests of the present and future generations, is obliged to create and maintain a legal framework which obliges the users of the forests to preserve biodiversity. In its decision, the Constitutional Court asks the forest managers and forest owners nothing else but to continue the commitment of their predecessors, as they never favored their own short-term economic interests over the values of nature when they planted and grew their forests either. Today, among others, those forests reach cutting age which were planted by our predecessors several decades ago and which were safeguarded and protected by several generations to ensure all those public good (ecosystem) services that form a natural part of our lives today.
The Constitutional Court also pointed out that the private interests of forest managers and forest owners cannot be left unprotected either. The different official procedures, the procedural rules for the designation and modification of the Natura 2000 areas, as well as the state subsidy systems allow the creation of balance between private and public interests, and the forest managers may continue to apply for state subsidies on account of the restrictions.
However, the Constitutional Court also emphasized that “[…] the state manages as a kind of trustee for future generations the natural and cultural treasures entrusted to it and belonging to the common heritage of the nation, therefore, the right of the present generations to use and utilize these resources is not unlimited. These rights shall only be of such extent that does not jeopardize the long-term existence of the natural or cultural values themselves to be protected individually as assets. In the management of these treasures and the creation of the relevant regulation, the state should reckon with the safeguarding of the interests of both the present and the future generations. The rule set out in the Fundamental Law of Hungary on the preservation of the natural and cultural resources for the future generations may thus also be regarded as part of the newly established and consolidated case law, and it expresses the commitment of the legislators to the importance and preservation of environmental, natural and cultural values.”
The Ombudsman for Future Generations reminds everyone that the recent years have seen the Constitutional Court, supported by the provisions of the Fundamental Law of Hungary, especially the basics laid down in Article P), as well as Articles XX and XXI thereof, elaborate an overarching framework in an increasingly innovative and distinct way, which this decision perfectly fits with.
Dr. Gyula Bándi points out that the key message of the Constitutional Court is the following: the trust of the future generations is at hazard if we live our lives without thinking about them and fail to preserve those basic services provided by our natural heritage which will be severely damaged, or will simply disappear without our protecting biological diversity. When the Constitutional Court recalls the achievements of century-old forest regulation, what it actually asks forest managers and forest owners to do is to accept that the restrictions aimed at protecting nature serve our and our descendants’ best interests.