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EU Ratchets Up Legal Pressure On Hungary

  • Rikard Jozwiak

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, delivers a short statement following the conclusion of a meeting concerning Hungary in Strasbourg on January 17.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, delivers a short statement following the conclusion of a meeting concerning Hungary in Strasbourg on January 17.

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission said today that it would take legal action against Hungary for failing to change new laws that do not comply with EU legislation.

The European Union, and much of the international community, has criticized Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his conservative Fidesz party, which came to power in 2010, for passing laws earlier this year that threaten the independence of the central bank, the media, and the judiciary.

The president of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, made the decision together with the other 26 commissioners. He said that Budapest had not changed its position despite warnings from Brussels.

"We had hoped that Hungary would have made the necessary changes. This has not been the case so far," Barroso said. "The decisions we have taken today are a reflection of our determination to make sure that EU laws, both in letter and in spirit, are fully respected and a stable legal environment exists in all of our member states."

Brussels gave the Hungarian government a one-month deadline to change the legislation or face legal action. If Hungary fails to act, it would be brought before the European Court of Justice and potentially have its EU voting rights suspended.

Officials in Brussels are particularly concerned about legislation allowing Orban, whose party controls two-thirds of parliament, to install one of the central bank's three deputy governors and which permits a government minister to participate in key meetings.

They also say legislation allowing for potential political interference in the country's data protection agency and a law lowering the retirement age for judges from 70 to 62 must be changed.

Orban has indicated that he is willing to consider changes to the law allowing him to appoint one of the central bank's deputy governors and the one on the data protection agency but insists the EU has no say in the retirement age of judges.

Orban has insisted that the legislative changes are necessary to remove the last vestiges of communist influence in the country and to help it recover from an ongoing economic crisis.

The opposition, which turned out thousands of protesters earlier this month, call the changes a "power grab."

Orban is due to participate in a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on January 18 and is scheduled to meet with Barroso in Brussels on January 24.
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