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EU launches legal action against Hungary over democracy concerns

Stand-off threatens hopes of bailout for Hungary’s stricken economy.

Hungary european union 2012 1 17Enlarge
An EU flag flutters in front of the Parliament building of Budapest on Dec. 30, 2011 during a demonstration organized by several communities of Christian evangelical churches. In addition to the central bank reforms that the European Central Bank has also criticized, Hungarian lawmakers are also set to approve a new law on religion that reduces the number of denominations that receive state support to 14 from over 300. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Hungary’s stand-off with the rest of the European Union intensified Tuesday, when the EU’s head office launched formal legal proceedings against what are widely perceived as anti-democratic laws introduced by the government in Budapest.

“The decisions we have taken today are a reflection of our determination to make sure that EU laws, both in letter and in spirit are fully respected,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso as he announced the decision.

Hungary has come under mounting international pressure over its new constitution that critics condemn for imposing restrictions on the media, judiciary and central bank.

Read more on GlobalPost: Hungary faces EU sanctions over reforms to banks

Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces accusations of using his huge majority in parliament to drag Hungary back toward authoritarianism, more than 20 years after he helped end Communist rule there.

International concern has hampered Hungary’s efforts to secure a $25 billion bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund to keep afloat its stricken economy.

Orban blames the country’s slide to the edge of bankruptcy on the legacy the previous Socialist government, rather than his own unorthodox policies. He says the constitutional changes are needed to eradicate laws leftover from Soviet times.

He is not winning many international friends however.

Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Barroso said European legal experts had doubts about new Hungarian laws on the independence of the central bank, the retirement age of judges and the independence of the data protection authority.

Read more on GlobalPost: Why the EU needs to talk about Viktor

The European Commission is also seeking more information on wider issues of judicial independence.

Under the EU treaty, the commission’s legal action could lead to heavy fines. Although that process could take months, the EU has more immediate leverage through withholding the bailout aid. If the other 26 member nations agree, the EU could also suspend Hungary’s voting rights in the Union if they decide fundamental values are being violated.

Orban is expected to get a roasting when he appears before the European Parliament on Wednesday. He has also agreed to meet Barroso in Brussels next week to discuss the stand off, but so far he shows little sign of backing down.

“We will not allow the international left attack Hungary with lies and unfounded accusations,” the prime minister’s spokesman Peter Szijjarto was quoted telling Hungarian media. “We will again defend Hungary and the integrity of Hungarians.”

Read more on GlobalPost: Occupy Budapest protests challenge power grab by the "Viktator" in Hungary


 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120117/eu-launches-legal-action-against-hungary-over-democracy-concerns