The Hungarian government today responded to European Commission claims that some of its laws break EU rules.
The government said that it had sent a formal reply to the Commission about three infringement procedures concerning the independence of the national bank, the data protection authority, and the retirement age for judges.
It also responded to letters sent by the Commission on the functioning of the judiciary and on media law, although these were not part of the infringement proceedings.
In January, the Commission said that it had concerns that the laws on the central bank, the data protection supervisor and the retirement age for judges did not comply with EU legislation designed to ensure the independence of institutions and the judiciary.
The Commission gave the Hungarian government until today to respond. It will now assess the government’s submissions. If the Commission still believes that the laws do not comply with EU legislation it can issue recommendations on how they should be changed. If the Hungarian government fails to follow these recommendations, the Commission can refer the case to the European Court of Justice, which has the power to impose fines.
A spokesman for Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, said that the Hungarian government was “committed to European values” and remained open to continuing dialogue with all EU institutions.
The spokesman said the government expected an “objective, impartial, professional and legally sound analysis” from the Commission.
The government is understood to have told the Commission that it is prepared to modify some parts of the laws in question.
In the case of the central bank, the Commission said that the presence of a government representative at the bank’s monetary policy meetings risked affecting the bank’s independence. It also expressed concern at the possibility of merging the central bank with the national financial market supervisor.
Orbán’s government has defended a requirement for central bank officials to swear an oath of allegiance. It is also standing by a decision to cut the salary of the central bank governor, which, it says, is part of wider efforts to reduce public sector salaries. The Commission expressed concern that the oath and the salary decision could affect the independence of bank officials.
The government is understood to have proposed changing the procedure for appointing and removing the data protection supervisor.
The Commission’s third area of concern was over legislation requiring judges to retire at 62. This could, it believes, lead to the selection of judges being politically motivated.
The government is understood to have offered to introduce a more flexible approach to retirement ages.
In a statement, the Commission said that it would dal with the government’s replies “as a matter of urgency”. It said that it would decide whether to take further action based on a legal analysis of Hungary’s responses.
The Hungarian government has faced international criticism since it adopted a new constitution and a set of accompanying laws last year. Opponents of the centre-right government say that the laws would give the government a stranglehold over political institutions.
A majority of MEPs adopted a resolution yesterday (16 February) calling on the Hungarian government to respect the EU’s basic values and follow any recommendations made by the Commission. Kinga Gál, a Hungarian MEP from Orbán’s Fidesz party, accused MEPs who backed the resolution of “authoritarian” behaviour by judging the government before the outcome of negotiations with the Commission had been completed.
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