Steps on central bank independence, judiciary are pre-conditions for formal negotiations, Rehn says

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European Commission Vice President Olli Rehn told Hungarian minister without portfolio Tamas Fellegi at talks on Friday that concrete steps by Hungary on the National Bank of Hungary’s independence and the judiciary are pre-conditions for the start of formal negotiations on financial assistance, Mr Rehn’s spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said.

Mr Fellegi was in Brussels to wind up two weeks of talks that took him to the United States as well as Europe in preparation for the start of official negotiations on the financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Hungary is seeking the assistance as a precautionary measure that would allow the country to continue to finance its debt on the market.

The spokesman that the Friday talks between Mr Rehn and Mr Fellegi were informal ones on the pre-conditions to be fulfilled for the launch of formal talks on the assistance requested by Hungary.

"[Mr Rehn] reiterated that before we can start formal negotiations on this EU-IMF financing programme, certain preconditions must be met," Mr Altafaj Tardio said at a regular press briefing. "In particular, he [Mr Rehn] stressed that Hungary must take concrete steps to ensure full independence of its central bank and the reliable functioning of the judiciary system," he added.

The European Commission launched three accelerated infringement proceedings against Hungary - on the country’s new Central Bank Act, the mandatory retirement age for judges and the data protection authority - early in the week. Hungary has one month to address the EU’s concerns.

The spokesman said Mr Rehn welcomed the Hungarian government’s willingness, expressed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and now Mr Fellegi, to engage in a dialogue and change the legislation in question. He added that Mr Rehn looked forward to see that "these assurances translate into concrete steps".

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