Council of Europe pleased with progress being made by Hungarian government.
The Hungarian government has largely assuaged Council of Europe concerns about laws on media oversight and the judiciary. Thorbjørn Jagland, the Council's secretary-general, said on Tuesday (29 January) that Hungary has made “significant progress”.
The European Commission said last year that it would refer Hungary to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) if it did not act on the Council of Europe's recommendations.Hungary has yet to meet one demand, Jagland said. It must still reinstate judges who were obliged to retire under a law introduced by the government of Viktor Orbán. The law, which made it mandatory for judges to retire at the age of 62, has already been changed at the demand of the ECJ.
The Council of Europe had also been concerned about a law giving the prime minister the right to appoint the head of the country's two media watchdogs – positions currently held by one person. Jagland said that Hungary now meets its “legal obligations”, after making changes that include passing the right of appointment to the country's president, fixing a one-term limit for the watchdogs' heads, and setting new criteria for board members. Hungary has also agreed, Jaglund said, to “remove many adjectives” from the media law that could have exposed journalists to “subjective” judgements.
Jagland said that media and critics of the government had not adjusted to the changes made by the Hungarian government. “There were some exaggerations, some accusations that were not based on normal standards in Europe but established some particular standards for Hungary,” he said. He also cited a recent decision of the constitutional court to strike out a requirement for voters to pre-register for elections as evidence that the court is “taking on its role”.
The Commission last year asked the ECJ to rule on the retirement age of judges, media oversight and the independence of the central bank. The Council of Europe last year decided not to take up complaints against Hungary's law on religious freedoms.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – a separate body made up of national parliamentarians – is considering opening a formal monitoring process for Hungary, the first time such a step would have been taken against a long-standing member.
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