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European Parliament officially rebukes Hungarian government on democracy, rule of law – Hungary government response

The European Parliament will draw up a report on whether EU laws and values are respected in Hungary, it has decided on Thursday. Further to this report, it will then decide whether to activate EU Treaty Article 7, which is used to investigate a clear risk of a serious breach of EU common values. Its resolution also calls on the European Commission to monitor closely the changes to some of Hungary's laws and how it puts them into practice. The resolution, submitted and approved by the Socialist, Liberal and Green groups and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left party, expresses “serious concern” about “the exercise of democracy, the rule of law, the respect and protection of human and social rights, the system of checks and balances, equality and non-discrimination.”

Approved with 315 votes in support, 263 against and 49 abstentions, it calls on the Hungarian government to comply with the recommendations, objections and demands of the European Commission (EC), the Council of Europe (CoE) and the Venice Commission, and amend the laws concerned accordingly. MEPs call on the Commission to monitor closely any amendments to and the enforcement of the Hungarian legislation, as well as its compliance with the letter and spirit of the EU treaties. The Commission should conduct a thorough study to ensure:

1. the full independence of the judiciary,

2. that the regulation of the Hungarian National Bank abides by EU legislation,

3. that the institutional independence of data protection and freedom of information is restored and guaranteed,

4. that the right of the Constitutional Court to review any legislation is fully restored, including the right to review budgetary and tax laws,

5. that media freedom and pluralism is guaranteed by the letter of the Hungarian Media Law and the way in which it is put into practice,

6. that the new electoral law meets European democratic standards and respects the principle of political alternation,

7. that the right to exercise political opposition in a democratic way is ensured both within and outside institutions, and

8. that the law on churches and religious denominations respects the basic principle of freedom of conscience and refrains from subjecting the registration of churches to the approval of a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian Parliament.

It notes that Hungary adopted a new constitution in 2011, “the adoption and certain provisions of which were criticised by the European Parliament in its resolution of 5 July 2011.” This document called on the government to address the issues and concerns raised by the Venice Commission and called on the EC to conduct a thorough review and analysis of the new constitution and of the cardinal laws to ensure they are consistent with the letter and the spirit of EU laws, the document added. The EP’s resolution instructed the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, in cooperation with the EC, the CoE and the Venice Commission, to follow up the implementation of the recommendations of the EC and the EP and to present its findings in a report.

The resolution also instructed the conference of presidents to consider implementation of further measures, including invoking Article 7 of the treaty that could strip Hungary of its right to draw EU-funding. The plenary meeting rejected two alternative resolutions, submitted by the central right European People’s Party and the conservatives, respectively.

Guy Verhofstadt ALDE group Leader said members had confirmed their "commitment to fighting any violation by a member state or government against our common European values of freedom and democracy." This is a vote in defence of the Hungarian citizens, and those across the EU that face similar threats to their liberty and checks and balances of the democratic system.

 Hungary government has sent a nearly 100-page response to the European Commission's objections on legislation that triggered infringement proceedings against the country a month ago, a source in Brussels, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Friday. As expected, the government does not make concessions about the oath central bankers need to take and the salary cap applied in the public sector, which cut the NBH Governor's monthly salary to its quarter.

The source knowledgeable about the disputed issues said the document includes the text of law amendment proposals. If Brussels finds these acceptable, they will be submitted to Parliament for a vote. On other points, however, the government provided arguments, hoping to disperse some of the concerns. With regard to the EC's objection to the Central Bank Act, for instance, the cabinet is willing to sacrifice the section that would allow the merger of the NBH and the financial markets regulator (PSZÁF) and also to make concessions about the presence of a government member at Monetary Council meetings. It would also amend laws to strengthen the independence of the data protection ombudsman. At the same time, the government continues to argue that the oath central bankers, including the Governor of the NBH, need to take on the constitution is not against EU rules since the basic law itself also stipulates the independence of the central bank Governor from national authorities. It also has no intention to exempt the Governor from the pay cap that was applied on the entire public sector. As for the retirement age for judges the cabinet is ready for a compromise solution and proposes that on a case-by-case basis the office term for judges older than 62 could be extended. The EC also requested more information about the reform of the judiciary and here the cabinet tried to disperse concerns on the regulations. Regarding the freedom of the press, it said a modification of the media law was already on the agenda given that the Constitutional Court ruled some of the new regulation unconstitutional last December. Also, the authorities are willing to seek the opinion of the Council of Europe on regulation affecting the freedom of the media. The source emphasised that the EC had no demand specifically asking for the amendment of the constitution.

Source: MTI

Last Updated on Friday, 30 August 2013 09:11

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