Wed Apr 12, 2017 03:48PM
People march holding up an EU flag in downtown Budapest, Hungary, April 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
People march holding up an EU flag in downtown Budapest, Hungary, April 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The European Union warned Wednesday it could launch legal action within weeks against member state Hungary's right-wing government to enforce EU democratic norms.

The EU has expressed fears that Hungary is undermining academic freedom, non-government organizations and the rights of asylum seekers.

"The College will review all these issues closely when it takes the next round of infringement decisions at the end of April," European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said, referring to an EU Commission body.

"Wherever individual cases are legally mature and our legal concerns remain unaddressed, we will move to the next steps," he told a press conference.

The college, which gathers the 28 commissioners of the European Commission, the EU executive, is due to meet April 27 to discuss so-called infringement proceedings.

If launched, such proceedings involve long series of consultations to determine if EU laws have been breached. If needed, the Commission can refer cases to the European Court of Justice, which could impose fines.

But Timmermans said the Commission wants for now to pursue a political dialogue to resolve the points of contention and determine what Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's views are on the rule of law.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban signs the new Rome declaration with leaders of 27 European Union countries on March 25, 2017 at Rome's Piazza del Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill). (Photo by AFP)

Timmermans, the Dutch right-hand man of Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, said not only is Orban open to such a dialogue, but "in the view of the Commission today, there is not a systemic threat to the rule of law in Hungary."

Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker has criticized Hungarian legislation that could force the closure of the Central European University in Budapest.

He has also lashed out at the Orban government for posting questionnaires titled "Let's stop Brussels!" to households nationwide asking them how to deal with EU policies that it says threaten their independence.

The EU is concerned too about legislation due to go to the Hungarian parliament in May forcing NGOs receiving more than 7.2 million forints (around 23,000 euros) annually from abroad to "register" with the authorities.

Failure to comply could result in the closure of the organizations.

Anti-crackdown protest in Budapest

Thousands of Hungarians protested in central Budapest on Wednesday against a perceived crackdown on free thought and education after the government put forward several laws restricting foreign universities and non-government organizations.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has advocated a self-styled "illiberal democracy," has said strong national governments were necessary to preserve the European way of life in the face of migration and multiculturalism, at odds with liberal beliefs.

Protesters filled the capital's Heroes' Square and formed a heart shape and the word 'CIVIL' from human bodies.

It was the fourth major street demonstration in the last two weeks as the government faces growing resistance a year before elections are due in April 2018.

"They have pressed ahead since 2010 with new moves every day that hurt democracy in some way," Robert Ferenczi, a 55 year-old protester from Budapest, told Reuters.

(Source: Agencies)