UPDATE - EU to launch three infringement proceedings against Hungary


The European Commission decided to launch three accelerated infringement proceedings against Hungary, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said following the weekly EC meeting in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

The proceedings will be launched over Hungary's new central bank act, over the mandatory retirement age for judges and over data protection, he told reporters.

The Commission also decided to ask for further information from the government regarding issues related to judicial independence.

Hungary must adress the concerns regarding the independence of the central bank before the Commission can start formal talks on the requested EU/IMF financial assistance, EC Vice-President Olli Rehn, responsible for Economic and Monetary Affairs said according to the Commission's press release.

The Commission decided to send three Letters of Formal Notice to Hungary -- the first stage in the EU's infringement procedure.

Hungary has one month, less time than usual, to respond to the Commission's concerns. The sooner the situation is resolved the better, Mr Barroso said.

Mr Barroso announced that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will visit Brussels next week. They will discuss the issues in question, he said.

The EC president said the Commission was confident that Hungary will carry out the necessary changes, noting that this had not happened so far.

The Commission's decision is based on a thorough analysis of the legislation affected, he noted.

"We do not want the shadow of a doubt on respect for democratic principles and values to remain over the country any longer," Mr Barroso told journalists.

According to a statement issued after the EC meeting Mr Barroso also said that "The Commission is determined to take any legal steps necessary to ensure that the compatibility with European Union legislation is maintained." ,

Mr Rehn underlined in the press statement that the independence of the central bank is one of the cornerstones of the Treaty, and governments must refrain from seeking to influence their central bank, stating that the new MNB law and certain provisions in the new Constitution are in breach of these principles.

"I urge the Hungarian Government to ensure full independence of the central bank. This implies reviewing all relevant legislation, including the Constitution. This needs to be addressed before we can start formal negotiations on the requested EU/IMF financial assistance.", Mr Rehn said.

European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding recalled that she had raised serious concerns over the draft of legislation on the judiciary and the new data protection authority in December, but the laws were passed without taking into account the Commission's concerns.

"I expect the Hungarian authorities to adress the Commission's legal concerns swiftly. Only actual changes to the legislation in question, or their immediate suspension, will be able to accommodate the Commission's legal concerns," the press release cited Ms Reding as saying.

The EC press release said that the Commission committed in 2011 to closely monitor developments related to Hungary's new constitution following a number of concerns expressed by the Council of Europe, Members of the European Parliament and others. It has been in close contact with Hungarian authorities regarding the preparation of draft cardinal laws implementing the constitution, and has raised a number of concerns on the compatibility of these laws with EU law, among others in letters sent to the Hungarian authorities by President Barroso and Vice-Presidents Reding and Rehn in December.

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