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Hungary told to rewrite laws in line with EU principles

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Hungary told to rewrite laws in line with EU principles

Viktor Orban - Photo EU Council

(BRUSSELS) - Hungary was given a month Wednesday to bring controversial laws into line with EU principles and avert court action, as well as revive a stalled bid to secure international loans.

In the latest episode of a running tussle over disputed changes to the constitution by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, the EU's executive threatened to drag Hungary before the European Court of Justice over failing its rewrite of two laws.

The European Commission also said a bid by Hungary to secure up to 20 billion euros from the IMF and EU would depend on Budapest proving its commitment to democratic principles enshrined in European Union treaties.

Asked whether the EU was ready to reconsider the funding request, after talks were suspended late last year due to worries over Hungary's legislative reforms, Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde said, "The conditions are not yet met."

"We need clarification and settlement before any talks can start."

She said however that there was no link between concerns over Hungary's legislative changes and a potential freeze in EU funds to Budapest in retaliation for excessive spending.

At its weekly meeting, the 27-member Commission agreed to initiate court action against Orban's government failing changes to laws that took effect this year -- one on the retirement age of judges, the other on its data protection authority.

It sent Hungary two so-called "reasoned opinions" demanding a rewrite of the legislation within a month, while also requesting further clarification on the independence of the judiciary and the central bank.

"We still have serious questions regarding potential violations of EU laws," Viviane Reding, the EU's commissioner for justice, said Wednesday.

"It is essential that the Hungarian authorities address the Commission's legal concerns swiftly."

Orban's Fidesz party, which in 2010 won a majority large enough to change the constitution, last year enacted sweeping legislative changes that drew concerns about the state of democracy under one of Europe's most controversial leaders.

Brussels in January laid three legal challenges to a raft of laws and two weeks ago Hungary submitted a list of responses.

The Commission spokeswoman said many questions had been cleared up though the executive still wanted to see a translation of new legislation on the central bank to ensure compliance.

Should Hungary fail to comply, the Commission, which is the guardian of EU treaties, can refer it to the Luxembourg-based court.

In Budapest, the government welcomed the Commission's decision "to accept the answers submitted by Hungary in 90 percent of the issues raised."

"As regards the remaining unresolved questions, the government is ready to continue the dialogue with the European Commission," a statement said.

Still to be resolved is a law to lower the retirement age for judges from 70 to 62, which would force 274 judges and public prosecutors to retire within a year.

The Commission says that violates EU rules to stop age-based discrimination.

"Orban is obviously trying to provoke a wave of departures within the judiciary," said Greens European parliamentarian Helene Flautre.

Also at stake is concern over the independence of the data protection authority, with the EU demanding to know why the current head of the body was sacked and also concerned over the government's ability to dismiss the new head.

Hungary: Commission continues accelerated
infringement procedure on independence of
the data protection supervisor and measures 
affecting the judiciary and asks additional
information on central bank's 
independence - background

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