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EC decides on further steps in Hungary infringement procedures

EU

The European Commission on Wednesday said it decided to continue accelerated infringement procedures on the independence of the country's data protection supervisor and measures affecting the judiciary, and ask for additional information on the central bank's independence.

The Commission decided on the further steps following Hungary's reply to three letters of formal notice from January 17 and their legal analysis.

"The promise to change Hungary's legislation affecting the independence of the central bank addresses some of the key concerns of the Commission. Now Hungary needs to flesh out these commitments and provide evidence through new legislation," the Commissions said. "At the same time, the Commission still has concerns about measures affecting the judiciary and the independence of the country's data protection supervisor," it added.

The Commission said it decided to send Hungary two reasoned opinions - the second stage under EU infringement proceedings after which the matter may be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union - and two administrative letters. The reasoned opinions concern the independence of the data protection authority and measures regarding the retirement age of judges - which would lead to the anticipated retirement of 274 judges and public prosecutors. The two administrative letters seek further clarifications regarding the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the central bank.

"Hungary has responded to some of the Commission's legal concerns, but we still have serious questions regarding potential violations of EU laws as regards the anticipated compulsory retirement of 274 judges and public prosecutors in Hungary and the independence of the Hungarian data protection authority. Now that the Commission has moved to the second stage of the infringement process, it is essential that the Hungarian authorities address the Commission's legal concerns swiftly. I would like to see real changes to the legislation in question to alleviate the Commission's legal concerns," said EC Vice-President Viviane Reding, who is the EU's Justice Commissioner.

"I welcome that Hungary is ready to correct its central bank legislation. However, we need clear commitments and the evidence, for instance reflected in the draft law. On the basis of the reply to our letter, the Commission will decide on the continuation or not of the infringement case," said Vice-President Olli Rehn, responsible for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro.

The Commission set an "accelerated" deadline of one month, instead of two, for Hungary to respond to the reasoned opinions and administrative letters.

Taking questions from journalists after the Commission's decision, EC spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said that conditions for talks on precautionary financial assistance Hungary is seeking from the International Monetary Fund and the EU had not yet been met, adding that the talks hinged on clearing up issues at the focus of the infringement procedures.

"Generally what I can say is that the conditions are not yet met.....we need clarification and settlement of those issues before any such talks could start," she said.

She said the Commission needed "clarifications and translation of the commitments that Hungary has already made regarding the independence of the central bank", "the legal texts themselves", a "calendar that indicates when these laws will enter into force", "more explanations" on the remuneration of central bank governor, and "indications that the central bank will be consulted on these measures".

The Hungarian government happily learnt that the EC approved 90% of Hungary's answers in the matters it launched, and these matters can thus be closed, prime minister's spokesman Péter Szijjartó and government spokesman András Giró Szász said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The cabinet is ready for further consultations with the Commission on questions that remain open, the statement added.

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