This WEEK in the European Union
By Honor Mahony
Budapest is expected to remain at the centre of EU news this week following a Hungary-dominated last few days in which Brussels started legal action against three Hungarian laws and raised concerns about media pluralism.
Viktor Orban's centre-right government has been given one month - instead of the usual two - to respond to the concerns, but it has already sent a conciliatory letter to the commission indicating that it believes Brussels's concerns can easily be put to rest.
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The prime minister himself, who was strongly criticised by liberal and centre-left MEPs during a debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday, will meet commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday. The commission will expect some concrete assurances about the laws. While critics have said the new constitution and its attendant laws are serving to concentrate a range of powers in Orban's Fidesz party, Orban argues that he is completing the country's transition to democracy and enabling the government to undertake economic reforms.
Hungary will feature during both the finance ministers' and general affairs meetings next week. The first on Tuesday is expected to rubberstamp the commission's decision on 11 January that Hungary has not taken sufficient action to bring its deficit below the required three percent of GDP. As it is a non euro country, there are no formal sanctions but future pay outs of cohesion funds have been linked to Budapest toeing the line.
Meanwhile Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have asked the commission to formally explain its position on Hungary during the general affairs council. Diplomats insist that Article 7, which would see Hungary's voting rights suspended, is not on the agenda.
Fiscal discipline treaty
The political discussions on the fiscal discipline treaty will begin on Monday evening during a meeting called by eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker - to date the discussions have been at the technical level and have produced four drafts since December.
Much of the debate is expected to focus on who is in the room when euro states are meeting. Non-euro state Poland and MEPs have led a spirited campaign for the treaty to be more welcoming to member states outside the single currency and representatives of the European Parliament.
The latest draft slightly opens the door to both but it remains unclear whether it will be enough.
The two pack
Although ink on legislation tightening budgetary surveillance in the member states is barely dry - two more pieces covering the same territory for euro states only are already in the pipeline.
Discussion by finance ministers is expected to focus on a proposal contained in the legislation that see a member state being asked to enter a bail-out programme - the mechanics of this politically sensitive issue have yet to be worked out.
Next week will also see the first political discussion on the EU's new long-term budget (2014-2020). The Danish presidency is expected to ask for some actual figures during Friday's general affairs council. With budget discussions traditionally ill-tempered, member states are disliking being precise about numbers too early in the game, instead preferring dark but vague threats about potential spending capabilities.
EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday are expected to discuss and agree sanctions for Iran in response to its nuclear programme.
The sanctions are expected to include an oil embargo and a partial ban on the central bank. The embargo would go into effect immediately but with a grace period until 1 July for those that have oil contracts with Iran - something that applies particularly to southern EU member states. The member state with the greatest concern in this respect is Greece, which is heavily dependent on Iranian oil. A solution for Athens is not expected to be found by Monday but it is set to be reassured that experts will continue working on it.
Meanwhile, the European Commission will on Wednesday publish a long-awaited overhaul of its 1995 data protection rules - long overtaken by technological advances. To date, the rules have been applied differently in member states leading businesses to complain about legal uncertainty.
Some of the central questions concern what exactly personal data is and the nature of consent needed for it to be used. Companies may also be required to introduce a "data protection by design requirement."