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European Commission to challenge Hungary laws

European Commission [official website] President Jose Manuel Barroso [official website] announced Tuesday that the Commission will legally challenge [press release] three Hungarian laws. The laws, passed last month in conjunction with Hungary's new constitution, are viewed by Barroso and the Commission as violations of EU law. First, the Commission contends that European law has instituted an independent national central bank, but Hungary's new law allows its Minister to participate in Monetary Council meetings, thus offering a possibility of political influence. Second, the Commission argues that EU law provides an independent judiciary and prohibits workplace discrimination based on age, but Hungary will proscribe a mandatory retirement age for judges, prosecutors and public notaries at 62 years. Third, the Commission asserts that EU law recognizes the independence of data protection supervisors, but Hungary will allow for premature termination of the Data Protection Commissioner currently in office. The Commission also contends that this law creates the possibility that the Hungarian prime minister and president could dismiss the new supervisor on arbitrary grounds. To deal with these possible infringements, Barroso and the Commission have sent three formal letters of notice to Hungary as a commencement of infringement procedures. Barroso said in a press release [text]:

The decisions we have taken today are a reflection of our determination to make sure that EU law, both in letter and in spirit, are fully respected and a stable legal environment exists in all of our Member States. Hungary is a key member of the European family. We do not want the shadow of doubt on respect for democratic principles and values to remain over the country any longer. The quicker that this is resolved the better.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban [official website] has said [press release] that Hungary's "general approach is that we are open and flexible, we are ready to negotiate all the points but what we need is not political opinion but arguments." He has agreed to meet with Barroso next week to discuss the disputed laws.

Hungary has received much recent attention regarding its introduction of controversial laws. Earlier in the month, tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside of the Hungarian State Opera to protest the new constitution [JURIST report], which took effect January 1. Protesters criticized the constitution as giving the government too much power over the media, economy, and religion, which they believe to be clear violations of international human rights law. The Hungarian government, however, defended itself by asserting that the constitution, passed in April, was long overdue and embodies both national and European values. In December, Hungary's Constitutional Court [official website, in Hungarian] struck down [JURIST report] certain provisions of a recently passed media law as an unconstitutional restraint on freedom of the press in addition to a law regulating religious organizations [JURIST report]. Hungarian President Pat Schmitt signed the new constitution into law [JURIST report] amid societal concerns that the document contravenes European human rights principles. These concerns were echoed by Human Rights Watch [advocacy website], who said [press release] that Hungary's new constitution "enshrines discrimination."

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