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EU warns Hungary over constitution vote

11 March 2013, 16:49 CET
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(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission warned Hungary to live up to democratic norms just hours before the country votes Monday on controversial constitutional changes which critics say could undercut essential freedoms.

Spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso had talked with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday and had been reassured that Budapest remained committed to EU rules.

Orban's comments were "very positive," the spokeswoman said, "but our job is to make sure that (the) EU laws that member states have signed up to, are complied with".

"We will not hesitate to use all the instruments at our disposal to make sure that member states comply with their obligations," she added.

There were large protests last week in Budapest over the vote known as the "fourth amendment", which among other things will limit the powers of the constitutional court.

Opponents claim the changes are part of a campaign to undercut and neutralise opposition to the government led by Orban's right-wing Fidesz party since 2010.

Brussels has clashed with Orban over a whole series of issues, including media freedom, control over the constitutional court and the central bank.

Last week, the foreign ministers of Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark and Finland wrote to Barroso urging him to ensure that human rights, democracy and the rule of law be put at the heart of Commission policy.

The four did not name Hungary or any other state but the letter was widely taken to refer to Budapest.

Asked about Hungary as he went into an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday, Germany's Guido Westerwelle said: "The German government has never left any doubt that Europe is a community of values and that we expect that these values be respected.

"It is not only about constitutions and rights put on paper, but about living them," he added.

Ahrenkilde Hansen stressed Monday that the Commission was now waiting to see how the vote went and that the Hungarian parliament had the right to proceed.

"In light of the vote, we will reassess what we can do next," Ahrenkilde Hansen said.

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