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EU takes legal action against Hungary over new constitution

Constitutional changes made before Christmas undermined the independence of the central bank and the judiciary.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso says the EU will do whatever it needs to ensure that Hungary does not breach its laws.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso says the EU will do whatever it needs to ensure that Hungary does not breach its laws.
Image: Cedric Joubert/AP

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION has initiated legal action against Hungary over changes to its constitution which limit the independence of the country’s judges and of its central bank.

The Commission today said it had sent three ‘Letters of Formal Notice’ to Hungary, the first stage in its infringement procedure, and would raise further issues with the Hungarian authorities on whether further action would be needed.

Brussels believes Hungary to be in conflict with EU law by questioning the independence of its central bank, its judiciary, and its data protection authorities.

Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said Hungary was obliged under EU treaties not to infringe the independence of its Central Bank and its Data Protection Authority, and the non-discrimination of its judges.

“The Commission is determined to take any legal steps necessary to ensure that the compatibility with European Union legislation is maintained,” he said.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said she had raised concerns about the impact of the changes when they were first drafted, and that the Commission was now responsible “as guardian of the Treaties to ensure that EU law is upheld”.

The legislation introduced by Hungary will force 274 judges into compulsory retirement, in contradiction to EU rules, while the government also gave itself powers to govern the data protection authority in similar ways.

The new laws passed in Hungary also allow its finance minister to participate in meetings of the Central Bank’s monetary council, allowing the government to influence the bank from inside – and, given that the Hungarian bank governor has a seat on the ECB’s board, the ECB itself.

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Gavan Reilly

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