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Orbán says meeting with Barroso was 'constructive'; indicates readiness to address issues swiftly

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban late Tuesday "comprehensive and constructive" and said Mr Orban had "indicated Hungary’s readiness to address swiftly the issues raised by the Commission" in a statement published on the European Union website.

A week earlier, the 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. Hungary has one month to respond to the Commission’s concerns.

"I have clarified with Prime Minister Orban the work ahead that is needed to speedily address the Commission’s legal concerns," Mr Barroso said.

"It is essential for the European Commission to make sure that EU law, both in letter and in spirit, is fully respected by Hungary, as by any other Member State," he said. "I also reiterated that there are wider political concerns that the Hungarian Government needs to address," he added.

Mr Barroso noted that at a time of economic and financial crisis, the confidence of citizens and markets in Hungary remained "particularly crucial".

Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Mr Orban said progress had been made in all areas at the talks in Brussels, but he added that there were still questions that needed to be cleared up with the Commission.

On the matter of the new Central Bank Act’s effect on the National Bank of Hungary’s independence, Mr Orban said a merger of the NBH with financial market regulator PSZAF had been shelved. But he said he would stand firm on a pay cap for the NBH governor as well as a requirement that the governor swear an oath on the Constitution.

He said the government failed to see the mandatory retirement age for judges as discriminatory and found no problem with the data protection authority, although he added the authority’s legal standing could be strengthened.

Mr Orban said he was optimistic about a possible quick start to negotiations between Hungary and the International Monetary Fund on a financial assistance package. He added that Hungary was ready for the start of the negotiations.

He said it would not be necessary for an extraordinary session of Parliament to be called to amend the legislation on which the Commission has voiced its concern.

Parliament is slated to start its spring session on February 13.

Mr Orban said he would propose to the relevant parliamentary committee that Hungary join an EU financial pact that is in the making. He noted that under the draft of the agreement, countries that are not in the eurozone do not have to bear the consequences of the pact until they adopt the single currency. He added that the draft does not include any plan for tax harmonisation.