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European Commission

Viviane Reding

European Commission Vice-President, EU Justice Commissioner

Situation of fundamental rights: standards and practices in Hungary

Plenary Session of the European Parliament on the Situation of fundamental rights: standards and practices in Hungary /Strasbourg

2 July 2013

MAIN MESSAGES

1. On the 2012 Infringements against Hungary (forced early retirement of judges and the independence of the data protection authority):

On 11 March 2013, the Hungarian Parliament amended the upper age limits with a view to partly complying with the rulings of the Hungarian Constitutional Court of 16 July 2012 and of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 6 November 2012. The Commission is currently monitoring the application of the new law and is verifying that the outstanding reinstatements of dismissed judges are being carried out as announced.

A second case concerns the violation of the independence of the Data Protection Authority and the termination of the mandate of the former Commissioner for Data Protection. The Commission regrets that in spite of the case which is pending before the Court, Hungary has even gone a step further by incorporating the premature termination at constitutional level through the Fourth amendment.

2. On the 2013 Constitutional amendments and the three issues that the Commission criticised (see SPEECH/13/324)

In order to address the Commission's concerns, the Hungarian authorities have offered solutions for the first two issues. The Commission welcomes these intentions but will continue monitoring the concrete implementing steps which must be taken by the Hungarian Parliament in order to effectively remove the existing concerns on these two points.

On the restrictions of political advertisements namely during European Parliament election campaigns, contacts are still on-going between the Commission and the Hungarian authorities to find a satisfactory solution in line with EU law well in time before the start of the next electoral campaign. We welcome the fact that the Hungarian authorities have indicated last week their readiness to address the Commission's concerns.

3. On a future rule of law mechanism:

This debate [on how to best preserve and defend the rule of law] is of general interest for the European Union. It relates to the so-called Copenhagen dilemma. It should not be shaped exclusively by our experiences with recent constitutional amendments in Hungary.

We need to engage in a dialogue with the Parliament, the Council and also with other stakeholders. The views of the judiciary will of course be important as well. In this context, the Commission is organising in November the "Assises de la justice", a conference on the role of Justice in the EU to which I have already invited the President of this House as well as the chairmen of the LIBE and JURI Committees. This conference will bring together senior policy makers at European and national level, judges from supreme courts and other courts, judicial authorities, legal professions and all stakeholders.

Following this process of dialogue and debate, the Commission will in due time present its position on further instruments to take forward the debate on the rule of law.

SPEECH

President, Honourable Members, as President Barroso has just recalled (SPEECH/13/608), the Commission has on several occasions expressed concerns directly and repeatedly with the Hungarian authorities about the conformity of the Hungarian Laws both with Union law and with the rule of law principle.

The Commission has played actively its role as guardian of the Treaties and let me recall the different steps:

Last year, the Commission launched two infringement cases against Hungary.

On the forced early retirement of judges, prosecutors and notaries, the European Court of Justice confirmed in November 2012 the Commission's legal analysis and declared the related Hungarian legislation incompatible with EU law. On 11 March 2013, the Hungarian Parliament amended the upper age limits with a view to partly complying with the rulings of the Hungarian Constitutional Court of 16 July 2012 and of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 6 November 2012. The Commission is currently monitoring the application of the new law and is verifying that the outstanding reinstatements of dismissed judges are being carried out as announced.

A second case concerns the violation of the independence of the Data Protection Authority and the termination of the mandate of the former Commissioner for Data Protection. The Commission regrets that in spite of the case which is pending before the Court, Hungary has even gone a step further by incorporating the premature termination at constitutional level through the Fourth amendment.

This year, after a detailed analysis of the Fourth amendment to the Hungarian Fundamental Law, the Commission identified three issues where the compatibility with EU law is at stake: 1) the ad-hoc tax for European Court of Justice judgements entailing payment obligations, 2) the regime for transfers of cases between courts and 3) the restrictions on publication of political advertisements, namely during European Parliament election campaigns.

In order to address the Commission's concerns, the Hungarian authorities have offered solutions for the first two issues. The Commission welcomes these intentions but will continue monitoring the concrete implementing steps which must be taken by the Hungarian Parliament in order to effectively remove the existing concerns on these two points.

On the restrictions of political advertisements namely during European Parliament election campaigns, contacts are still on-going between the Commission and the Hungarian authorities to find a satisfactory solution in line with EU law well in time before the start of the next electoral campaign. We welcome the fact that the Hungarian authorities have indicated last week their readiness to address the Commission's concerns.

As you can see, the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, has never refrained from using all the tools at its disposal with the satisfactory results that I have just explained. And let me assure this House that the Commission will continue to ensure that legislation is made compatible with EU law.

Issues on the compatibility of the HU Constitution with the rule of law

The Commission has been following with great interest the work of the Parliament in the Tavares report. The Commission has already asked the Hungarian authorities to engage in a political dialogue with the European Parliament in order to address the recommendations of the Resolution you will vote tomorrow.

The Commission is determined to work closely together with the European Parliament in the coming months in following how the Hungarian authorities will address the concerns expressed by the European Parliament in its Resolution and by the Venice Commission.

Looking forward to the issue of promoting the rule of law in the EU

The debate on how to best preserve and defend the rule of law in the European Union that the Tavares' report touches upon is of high importance to the Commission as underlined by President Barroso. This debate is of general interest for the European Union. It relates to the so-called Copenhagen dilemma. It should not be shaped exclusively by our experiences with recent constitutional amendments in Hungary.

We believe that all existing initiatives could help in this endeavour. The EU Justice Scoreboard that I presented in March is notably a tool designed as part of the European Semester process to promote effective, independent and high-quality justice systems in Europe. We also have gathered experience and expertise from the Cooperation.

We also believe that we need to engage in a dialogue with the Parliament, the Council and also with other stakeholders. Members States have started reflecting into this issue in the General Affairs and Justice Council meetings, and will continue this autumn.

The views of the judiciary will of course be important as well. In this context, the Commission is organising in November the "Assises de la justice", a conference on the role of Justice in the EU to which I have already invited the President of this House as well as the chairmen of the LIBE and JURI Committees. This conference will bring together senior policy makers at European and national level, judges from supreme courts and other courts, judicial authorities, legal professions and all stakeholders.

Following this process of dialogue and debate, the Commission will in due time present its position on further instruments to take forward the debate on the rule of law.


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