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EU has 'serious concern' on Hungary's new constitution

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU executive expressed "serious concerns" over constitutional changes in Hungary, notably over the independence of the judiciary, in a letter to the government obtained by AFP on Thursday.

In the letter addressed to Justice Minister Tibor Navracsics on December 12, the EU's justice commissioner Viviane Reding stated that "aspects of the recent reform process raise serious concerns from an EU law perspective."

She asked for a response "as a matter of urgency" by December 16 given that the new rules take effect on January 1.

The European Union executive notably is concerned over age discrimination for judges, whose retirement is to be lowered to 62 years of age.

It is also worried over the concentration of power in the hands of the new president of the National Judicial Office (NJO), which will have the power to appoint judges.

The Hungarian parliament Tuesday elected a friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orban to head the judiciary, sparking alarm from rights groups and the opposition. Tunde Hando will begin her nine-year term January 1.

She is the wife of Jozsef Szajer, a deputy in the European Parliament from Orban's Fidesz party, who reportedly drafted the controversial new constitution calling for an overhaul of the judiciary.

Also Tuesday, the Fidesz-dominated parliament elected for nine years a new supreme court chief, forcing its former head out of office on January 1.

Andras Baka, a critic of the judiciary reform, still had four years to go in his seven-year term, and the opposition has slammed his successor Peter Darak's lack of experience.

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