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Hungary's Viktor Orban blinks first in test of wills with European Union

Taking it on the chin at the European Parliament, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attempts to mollify his critics by agreeing to loosen proposed controls on the central bank and judiciary.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gives a press conference today at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. (GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban flinched today in a test of wills with the European Union, saying he was willing to loosen proposed state controls on the central bank and other institutions that threatened cuts to EU aid, according to Reuters.

The development showed a softening position on the part of the Hungarian government, which has been accused of drifting away from democracy, and is facing popular protests at home over potential rules that threaten the independence of the news media and the judiciary.

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The European Commission had said yesterday that draft laws on Hungary's central bank, the retirement age for judges, and Hungary's authority on data protection were in violation of EU rules, according to Reuters, and would give rise to proceedings before the European Court of Justice if they were not revised in one month's time.

Speaking at the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, Orban sought to minimize the significance of the EC's complaints, saying they were not far from his own positions.

"I said that the problems that had been raised by the Commission could easily be resolved," he was quoted as saying.

However, he preserved one point of divergence.

"The Commission asks that the Governor and the members of the Monetary Council should not take an oath in Parliament and on the Hungarian Constitution," he said. "I believe that apart from this, our views match in all other points."

According to Reuters, Orban's popularity has flagged since he swept to power in 2010 and observers believed a climb-down from his current policy course could be politically embarrassing.

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Orban is to meet next week with Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, who has called on Hungary to "respect the very principles of democracy and freedom," according to Reuters.

According to The Associated Press, the changes proposed today did little to appease critics of Orban and his conservative Fidesz party.

Hours after informing the EC of his proposed changes, Orban faced an onslaught of criticism in the chamber of the European Parliament, according to the AP.

"We are telling you that you are going in the direction of Mr. Chavez, Mr. Castro and all of those totalitarian and authoritarian governments," Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit was quoted as saying, in reference to the strongmen of Venezuela and Cuba.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120118/hungarys-viktor-orban-blinks-first-blinks-first-test-wills-europ