26th Jan 2020

Hungary responds to EU infringement procedure

Hungary sent around a 100-hundred page response on Friday (17 February) to the European Commission concerning three infringement proceedings launched against the country in January.

The Commission had cast serious doubt on the integrity of Hungary’s national bank and national data protection authority as well as the legality of the country’s mandatory early retirement age for its judges.

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  • Hungary defends contested legislation (Photo: European Commission)

All three are cardinal laws adopted by the Hungarian government parliament in December last year following a revamped constitution over the summer.

“We sent our official replies to the European Commission which is the end of the stage of the first process,” Hungary’s ambassador to the EU told reporters in Brussels adding that it includes both concrete proposals to change its legislation as well as further explanations where they believe no change is required.

The Commission can now either agree with Hungary’s explanation or send a formal request requiring them to comply with EU law. Should Hungary fail to comply with EU law then the Commission can refer the country to the European Court of Justice.

The ambassador said some twenty to thirty pages of the their response outlined reasons why the Hungarians should not have to change certain positions including the oath sworn by the governor of its central bank, the MNB.

The commission views the oath to the Hungarian constitution as a violation because it throws into question the bank’s independence since the governor also sits on the General Council of the European Central Bank (ECB).

But the Hungarians maintain that the oath is valid since their constitution contains a cardinal law that guarantees the bank’s independence.

Hungary also wants to reach a compromise on the early retirement age of judges from 70 to 62. Around 274 judges, including those at the Supreme Court, will be forced to retire if they are above 62.

“It’s a pension-related issue,” said the ambassador explaining that 80 percent of the judges simultaneously draw a salary and a pension.

The Commission believes the compulsory early retirement age is a discrimination that contradicts EU law. The Hungarians stress that the retirement age had always been 62 and that the judges were automatically entitled to work until 70 if they so wished.

The Hungarians want to repeal the automatic entitlement to continue working until 70. Instead, should the judge want to continue to work until 70 then he or she must be seek permission. This, they explain, puts the judges on par with the pension schemes of other high-ranking civil servants and so is no longer discriminatory.

The Hungarians say they are ready to make concessions to guarantee the independence of the data protection authority. The ambassador stressed that any such change is purely “an indication of readiness”.

Hungary had decided to create a new National Agency for Data Protection, replacing the current Data Protection Commissioner’s Office as of 1 January 2012.

The new office terminated, prematurely, the six-year term of the current ombudsman who had been appointed in 2008. The new rules also entitled the prime minister and president to dismiss the new supervisor on arbitrary grounds, argue the Commission.

The Hungarian’s responded by claiming they had openly consulted the terminated ombudsman and are willing to modify the legislation if necessary.

Separately, they also responded to two letters sent by EU justice commissioner Vivian Reding and EU digital affairs commissioner Neelie Kroes.

Reding’s letter raised issues over the independence of the judiciary but the ambassador said her concerns “simply do not reflect the real content of the legislation”.

As for Kroes’ letter on the media, the Hungarian government said it would submit amendments to the parliament following the ruling of the constitutional court in December.

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