EU Threatens Legal Action Against Hungary Over Policy Issues

The European Commission has issued its final warning to Hungary over policies it says undermine the independence of the nation’s central bank, and may soon take legal action to halt the country’s authoritarian turn.

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Hungary remained intransigent despite threats to withhold much-needed financial assistance from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, prompting European officials to say that they are prepared to take the Hungarians to court to reverse a number of laws passed at the end of last year that remove checks and balances on the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Critics of Hungary’s new constitution and laws fear that the formerly communist central European country is backsliding toward an autocracy. Three measures of particular concern are the independence of the country’s central bank, mandatory early retirement of judges and prosecutors at the age of 62 instead of 70, and the independence of the national data protection authority.

The commission says a number of the new provisions may be in violation of EU law, and that it “reserves the right to take any steps that it deems appropriate, namely the possibility of launching infringement procedures.” In the course of the next few days, the commission will complete a full legal analysis of the Hungarian laws and make a decision by next Tuesday as to whether to pursue legal charges.

European Union Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding said on Wednesday that she believes Orban to be abusing his parliamentary majority to reshape the Hungarian constitution for the benefit of his ruling Fidesz party rather than for the benefit of the nation and the electorate.

Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, has invited Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Janos Maronyi to work with him in examining some of the most highly contested laws on media freedom and religious expression to see if they run counter to the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Council is responsible for enforcing, and if so, to discuss how they can be corrected.

Jagland believes his body best placed to examine laws under contention, as there is little the EU can do to force changes. If Hungary fails to modify its laws in line with its commitments as a member of the Council, Jagland says Hungarian citizens are entitled to bring a case against the government at the  European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

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