EU opens legal action against Hungary over new laws

 
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, 17 Jan 12 Commission President Barroso says Hungary's new legislation conflicts with EU law

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The European Commission - the EU's executive arm - has opened legal proceedings against Hungary over reforms to its central bank, data protection and judiciary.

PM Viktor Orban was given a month to respond to the Commission's concerns.

Critics say the new central bank law puts the bank's independence at risk. It allows Mr Orban to install a new deputy governor.

His conservative Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The Hungarian government said it would try to "resolve the problematic questions as soon as possible", so as to avoid an escalation of the legal dispute.

The Commission launched an "infringement procedure" against Hungary on Tuesday, the first stage of which is a warning calling for changes to the controversial laws.

"We do not want a shadow of doubt on respect for democratic principles and values to remain over the country any longer," Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

Analysis

The Commission move is a slap in the face for Hungary, but a relatively gentle one.

Parliament in Budapest is not due to reconvene until mid-February, but could be summoned early.

Mr Orban has argued that all "convincing arguments" will be listened to, and laws will be changed if necessary.

'This was a political message from the Commission,' said Tamas Boros, of the Policy Solutions thinktank in Budapest.

The three issues highlighted by the Commission were "not necessarily the most important ones", he said, but show rather "those fields where the Commission can prove that Hungary is in breach of EU legislation".

Two formidable critics of the Fidesz government now hold influential positions in Europe - Commissioner Olli Rehn and Martin Schulz, newly elected Speaker of the European Parliament.

Mr Orban will speak to the European Parliament on Wednesday and his Minister for IMF negotiations, Tamas Fellegi, will meet Olli Rehn in Brussels on Friday.

"We hoped the Hungarian authorities would make the changes necessary to respect European law. This has not happened so far, so we have decided to launch the proceedings."

Mr Barroso was speaking after a meeting of the 27 EU commissioners in Strasbourg. He said he would discuss the issues of concern with Mr Orban on 24 January in Brussels.

The Commission can go as far as imposing fines and taking Hungary to the European Court of Justice.

There are fears that Hungary's new data protection authority will come under Fidesz influence and that a plan to make 274 judges retire early will undermine the judiciary's independence by enabling new pro-Fidesz appointees to replace them.

Opposition to Fidesz

Thousands of Hungarians have demonstrated over what they see as Fidesz authoritarianism. A new media authority set up by Fidesz is also highly controversial.

The changes are part of a new constitution which took effect on 1 January.

"I expect the Hungarian authorities to address the Commission's legal concerns swiftly," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said.

"Only actual changes to the legislation in question, or their immediate suspension, will be able to accommodate the Commission's legal concerns."

Mr Orban says his opponents' criticisms are politically motivated.

He argues that partisan bickering has for too long handicapped Hungarian politics and that the last vestiges of communist influence need to be rooted out.

'No dispute with EU'

But the Hungarian government insisted on Tuesday that "we have no dispute with EU institutions with regard to either the basic principles, or the importance of common European values and achievements".

It promised "a basic examination" of the issues raised by the Commission, saying "our goal is to provide a full and relevant answer".

"Like the European Commission, Hungary regards the independence of the national bank, the justice system and the data protection authority as fundamentally important," it said.

Correspondents say a compromise may be found because Hungary is struggling to service its debts and wants to reach a new deal with the EU and International Monetary Fund on a standby loan worth up to 20bn euros (£16.5bn; $25bn).

Hungary's total debt has risen to 82% of its output, while its currency, the forint, has fallen to record lows against the euro.

The EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Olli Rehn, has already warned that Hungary could face a suspension of EU cohesion funds - support for regional projects.

And on Tuesday he said Hungary must first "review all relevant legislation" on the central bank before formal negotiations on the requested EU-IMF assistance could begin.

Nearly a year ago a row between Hungary and the Commission was defused when Mr Orban's government agreed to amend the wording of the new media law, in the sections on balanced reporting, country of origin and media registration.

 

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 67.

    The Commission is becoming a despot authority... Since when the member states have to take orders from Brussels?! What about Mr. Barroso explaining the Commission "infringement" of the Hungary sovereignty?! I am pro-Europe but a democratic Europe not a United States of Europe with Brussels bossing around. Soveregnty of the EU member states is paramount and Brussels has no rights whatsoever over HU

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 66.

    If your in the EU you follow the rules if you dont like it then leave its your democratic right after all. The EU commission represents all 27 democratically elected member states and it is something we could have done with in the 1930`s when another right wing goverment was democratically elected.Or have we forgotten that particular lesson?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 65.

    Why is the EU Commission being so active now in the case of Hungary, but it was so inactive for decades about Greece? Is it double-standards? - the former USSR-satellite compared to the 'cradle of democracy' and the rose-tinted view of Greece of Giscard D'Estaing and others - the absurd presumption of a connection between the Hellenes of 2500 years ago, and the present post-Ottoman mess? Guilt?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 64.

    62. Owen; If you wish to comment on my retort please do, I said that undermining democracy is something the EU does on a daily basis. I did not mention race and media control.
    Therefore please either reply directly to my blog or retract your comment. Thank you.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 63.

    Incidentally, who voted for Commissioner Barroso?

  • rate this
    -12

    Comment number 62.

    57. shgp13 : Do a little research beyond this article, Euroscepticism is a legitimate point of view, even if not my view.

    Religious, Race and Media control are not for government, though economic control is OK. Supporting the Hungarian government seems a little too close to supporting National socialists in 1930's Germany to me.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 61.

    this is a rectification for earlier comment--

    "It is unthinkable that EB, which has no such democratic mandate as the Hungarian Parliament and Government, would blackmail a free country with suspending EU funds." --from the Polish letter to EB and EP

  • Comment number 60.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 59.

    To Zoli , Hunbus and others: I don't think anyone dare to challenge that your govermnement has been elected democratically. This is not the issue. The issue is that it is not European. If your government does't agree any longer with the European basic values, just leave the EU. No problem.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 58.

    E.U hypocrits!...how dare they question an elected governments right to make soverign decisions when they allow financial unelected puppet governments to be placed in charge of Greece and Italy! At least the people of Hungary elected this party.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 57.

    49. Owen: Hungary is undermining democracy, but that is exactly what the EU does on a daily basis!

  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 56.

    What the Hungarians are doing can be extremely dangerous.The far right is on the rise, a typical reaction when there is economic hardship. Inflaming nationalistic and anti gypsy feelings can only mean trouble for the region as whole. EU should send a strong message, being part of the EU means adhering to the rules.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 55.

    So the UNELECTED EU Commision are telling the ELECTED Hungarian govt to respect democratic principles.

    Out of the Soviet frying pan and into the EU fire for Hungary.

  • Comment number 54.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 53.

    The EU is disgraceful A concept made up by socialists, similar to old USSR, Remember their Kommisars?
    Remember FRANCE voted against a treaty, They got to vote til the answer was YES.
    Ditto Ireland and Denmark?Now Hungary.Europe needs real freedom!
    Then the greeks and Italians : EU Gauliters parachuted in to replace elected officials?

    Europe NEEDS FREEDOM NOT EU.

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 52.

    Dommma

    Dear Hungarian brother, you didn't understand completely.

    Italy and Greece are not under blackmail now because those countries have already been taken over.
    By two bankers working for the same financial elite that controls their central banks and the ECB.

    Hungary wants to get their central bank in public hands (which is fully right !! )

    that's why Hungary is being blackmailed now

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 51.

    Take note. This is what happens when you go against Europe.

    DO AS YOUR TOLD!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 50.

    Zoli.
    if you have read the full text of the speach, you should know that it was exactly about not to lie to the people anymore, as all the parties did until that time(unfortunately still they do). Style is just because of that it was not for public, but its true should have been told in normal style for public.
    a thought: if you drive on highway, and everyone comes down, not sure, they are wrong

  • rate this
    -14

    Comment number 49.

    Hungary is undermining democracy, undermining the judiciary. Its clear Hungary is undermining freedom of religion.

    Hungary is also the UK's biggest ally in Europe, its a shame that so many British seem to support Hungary blindly in its battles with the EU.

    Do Euro sceptics also want to convert to the Hungarian Orthodox church, and live with out justice and democracy? Seems like from the posts.

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 48.

    Fidesz had a 2/3 majority. The difference they have made in a short time is amazing. I visit Hungary 3 or 4 times a year and love it. This new government is for the Hungarian people. It promised the new constitution, people voted for them, they are delivering what the promised. Isn't this how politics is meant to work? Victor Orban is taking his country to task and fixing the mess they are in.

 

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