José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, today said that the Commission has launched a legal challenge to three Hungarian laws.
Speaking in Strasbourg after a meeting of commissioners, Barroso said that the Commission had launched infringement procedures against laws on the central bank, the retirement age of judges and the data protection supervisor. The Commission believes that the laws, which were passed just before Christmas as part of a package of measures to accompany a new constitution, break EU law.
The Hungarian government has one month to respond to the Commission’s challenge.
The Commission is also sending the Hungarian government letters requesting further information about the independence of the judiciary.
Barroso said: “We hoped the authorities would make the changes necessary to guarantee the respect of European law. This has not been the case so far, therefore we have decided to begin infringement proceedings.”
He said that the Commission’s decisions were a “reflection of our determination to make sure that European Union law, both in letter and in spirit, is fully respected and that a stable legal environment exists in all of our member states”.
“Hungary is a key member of the European family. We do not want a shadow of a doubt on respect for democratic principles and values to remain over the country any longer. The quicker this is resolved the better,” Barroso said.
He said he would meet Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, in Brussels on 24 January to discuss how to resolve the problem.
The Hungarian government said that the Commission’s decision to examine whether the laws complied with EU legisaltion was an “an opportunity to engage in a technical dialogue based on verifiable facts with the competent authority, the European Commission, acting as the guardian of the Treaties”.
In a statement issued this today, the government said it considered the independence of the central bank, the judiciary and the data protection authority as “indispensable and important as does the European Commission”. There was “no disagreement” with the EU institutions of the on the importance of “basic principles, common European values and achievements,” according to the statement.
The government said it would give “satisfactory and comprehensive answers to the questions raised, and to find a solution for the problematic issues as soon as possible, preferably without going through the full infringement procedure”.
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Orbán’s government has faced strong international criticism for passing a new constitution and a package of law which, critics argue, would give the ruling Fidesz party excessive power over Hungary’s political and judicial institutions and the central bank.