Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Hungary PM defends legal rows

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has defended recent legal and constitutional changes in his country, during a heated debate with MEPs on 18 January 2012.

He was speaking a day after the EU Commission launched legal proceedings against his Fidesz government's plans to introduce new laws on the central bank, the judiciary and data protection authority in light of the Commission's concerns.

Mr Orban told MEPs Hungary was going through "an exciting process of renewal" and said he hoped that any disagreement with the Commission could be dealt with "easily and swiftly".

However Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso warned that the Commission "will not hesitate in taking further action".

He said that "letters of formal notice" had been sent to Budapest raising concerns over the independence of the central bank and the forced retirement of judges

Mr Orban's centre-right Fidesz party, was elected with a two thirds majority in a general election 2010, and has used its powers to bring forward a number of legal changes, as well as a new constitution that came into effect at the start of 2012.

EU and IMF officials have cut short aid talks with Hungary over the banking reform.

However the government says the Fiscal Stability Law will increase jobs, by making permanent a flat personal income tax. Opponents say this undermines the bank's independence.

The ensuing debate in the European Parliament was broadly split along party lines, with members of the EPP group - in which the Fidesz party sits - being less critical.

Maltese EPP MEP Simon Busuttil warned that taking action at the moment would lose respect for the European Parliament among Hungarians, and urged the Commission to let the legal process run its course.

However Hungarian conservative Lajos Bokros accused the Fidesz government of a "carpet bombing" of the rule of law, and a "wholescale destruction of autonomy".

Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt, said the dispute with Hungary was not just a technical matter.

"It's about checking the conformity of the constitution and cardinal laws with European values."

He praised Mr Orban for his role in defeating communism, but told him: "I'm afraid you are on the wrong path for the moment."

The Franco-German co-leader of the Greens, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, told Mr Orban that many Hungarians, including Jews and other minorities, were afraid about future consequences of the Fidesz government's legal and constitutional changes. "The majority has the right not to live in fear," he said.

MEPs will vote on a motion for a resolution setting out their position on the row at the mini-plenary session in Brussels in February.

Useful links:

Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work.

A disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations, on the European Parliament's website.

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