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EU to demand Hungary reverse controversial reforms

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU executive is expected to hand Hungary an ultimatum this week to speedily back down on controversial political reforms or face damaging legal proceedings, EU sources said Monday.

The 27-member European Commission has agreed to threaten Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government with European Court of Justice action for violating fundamental democratic rights, with an announcement due Tuesday or Wednesday, the sources said.

"There is an agreement to send three letters of warning," an EU official said, with Budapest given "a very brief delay" to row back on legislation or face EU legal action.

"There will however be further discussion tomorrow as this is a serious matter," the source added.

Some commissioners are willing to give Orban one month to reverse the constitutional changes while others are calling for a faster-then-usual "less than two weeks," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Brussels has urged Hungary to reassess three sets of hotly contested changes to the constitution adopted by Orban's parliamentary majority on December 31 but seen as threatening the independence of the central bank, the judiciary and the data protection authority.

Under EU procedures, the executive must first issue a letter warning of the possibility of legal action before embarking on infringement proceedings.

"All is ready, the letters will be signed Tuesday or Wednesday," another EU official said.

Standard procedure is to give a member state two months to rewrite contested legislation, but for Hungary the period "may be 14 days," said this official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Anger at the constitutional changes brought tens of thousands of Hungarians onto the streets earlier this month protesting that the reforms will curb democracy.

Ensuring the central bank's independence is a condition if cash-strapped Hungary wants to resume negotiations with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for credit of up to 20 billion euros ($25 billion).

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