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Hungary's Orban accepts EU demands, EU party says

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told leaders of his center-right EU political group on Saturday that he would comply with demands from Brussels to change measures branded an attack on academic freedom, the party said.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban looks up during a plenary session at the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels, Belgium April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Orban himself, speaking in Hungarian to domestic television viewers, insisted he was not climbing down and said he would “negotiate” with the EU executive in the coming months and “implement the final result”.

“Nobody will set conditions for Hungary,” he told Hungarian reporters at a news conference on Saturday.

The apparent easing of tensions with Budapest came as EU national leaders met in Brussels to demonstrate unity ahead of Brexit negotiations. They agreed formal guidelines for those talks with Britain without further discussion.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is also part of the conservative bloc, said actions would speak louder than words.

“For me, and I believe this is also the case for the Commission, what matters are the actual results,” she told a news conference after the Brussels summit.

Orban, in power since 2010, has regularly bashed the EU and is accused in Brussels along with leaders of some other ex-communist countries such as Poland, of willingly accepting EU funds, while rejecting EU values or a share of refugees. According to the European People’s Party (EPP), he was in more of an appeasing mood on Saturday.

“Prime Minister Orban committed himself in the EPP council to follow and implement all the demands of the European Commission within the deadline set by the Commission,” Siegfried Muresan, EPP spokesman, told reporters after Orban was grilled by fellow party leaders.

On Wednesday, the EU executive gave Budapest a month to adapt a higher education law passed on April 4, saying it was not compatible with fundamental European freedoms.

EPP President Joseph Daul, whose group has considered in the past suspending Orban’s ruling Fidesz party over concerns about its respect for democratic values, said Orban had reassured the party that Hungary would comply with the Commission request.

Orban, who in common with other Eastern European leaders is anxious to show voters that they have not swapped half a century of rule from Moscow for diktat from Brussels, defended himself in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

He condemned his former ally in opposing Communist control in Hungary, Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros, as a “speculator”. The Soros-backed Central European University in Budapest has said the new law is aimed at closing it down as part of a plan to discourage liberal thought.

“The measures in Budapest are not acceptable. Academic freedom must be guaranteed,” Manfred Weber, the EPP’s leader in the European Parliament, said after Saturday’s meeting.

Poland also faces complaints from the EU executive that it is breaching standards which others see as fundamental to the idea of the European Union and defying the bloc’s rules.

Additional reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Jan Strupczewski and Ros Russell