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European court strikes down Hungarian law

Europe’s top court has ruled that Hungary violated European Union law by lowering the mandatory retirement age for judges. The court said the legislation amounted to discrimination on the basis of age.

One of the reasons Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government gave when it passed the law making it mandatory for judges, prosecutors and notaries to retire at the age of 62, was that it was part of a drive to standardize the retirement age in the public service.

In the ruling handed down on Tuesday, though, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice rejected that argument.

"The radical lowering of the retirement age for the professions concerned by eight years is not a measure which is necessary to achieve the objective of standardizing the retirement age for public-sector professions," the court said.

The previous mandatory retirement age for judges had been 70.

The court also said that reducing the retirement age for some public sector employees to 62 contradicted a separate move, in which Orban's government raised the general age of retirement from 62 to 65.

It also noted that the legislation forced judicial officials to "leave the labor market automatically and definitively, without having had the time to take measures - in particular of an economic and financial nature – that such a situation calls for."

The ruling is seen as a victory for the European Commission, which has been involved in a series of disputes with Budapest over Hungarian laws introduced since Orban's conservative Fidesz party came to power two years ago.

Opposition parties were also expected to welcome the ruling. When the legislation came into force back in June, they accused Orban of using the new regulations to gain control of the judiciary by replacing older, experienced judges, with younger, more government-friendly ones.

The court ruling means Budapest must now repeal the law, possibly replacing it with another that conforms with European law. If it fails to do so, the European Union could impose fines on the highly indebted country.

pfd/hc (dpa, DAPD)