Taking advantage of the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party voted a bill through the Hungarian Parliament on Monday 30 March using its super majority to allow Prime Minister Orban to rule by decree, effectively circumventing democratic institutions in a European Union member state.
As part of the adopted measures - which despite the calls of the united opposition parties do not have an end date - all elections and referendums are suspended, existing laws can be suspended and amendmed at will, and the Parliament may only discuss matters related to the coronavirus pandemic. The law also provisions sentences of up to five years of imprisonment to anyone who publishes false or distorted facts that alarm or agitate the public or undermine its “successful protection”, opening the door to the risk of censorship.
Reacting to the result of the vote in the Hungarian Parliament, ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen said: “Today is a very dark day for democracy in Hungary. I am very disappointed that Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have together passed a bill to enable him to rule by decree without any time limit or democratic accountability. Parliament has now also suspended and freedom of speech will be further restricted through threat of imprisonment.”
“While extraordinary times do require extraordinary measures, this is beyond reasonable and I fear this signals the premature end of democracy in Hungary. I echo concerns raised by many others, including the Council of Europe, that an indefinite, uncontrolled state of emergency cannot guarantee the basic principles of democracy. The European Union now must take action.”
“ALDE will continue to work with its member parties Momentum and Liberalisok to restore democracy, democratic accountability, and our sacred European values to Hungary.”
Today's a dark day for democracy in #Hungary. Orban and his Fidesz party have passed a bill to enable him to rule by decree without any time limit or democratic accountability. Parliament suspended, freedom of speech to be further restricted. EU must act! https://t.co/czeIPDiKWe— Hans van Baalen (@hansvanbaalen) March 30, 2020
Didier Reynders, the European Commissioner for Justice, said he would seek an official assessment of whether the new law was in line with EU standards:
Dacian Çiolos MEP, leader of the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament commented: "the developments in Hungary are a red alert for liberal democracy in Europe and beyond. The current coronavirus crisis should not be used as a smokescreen for abusing power. Fighting COVID-19 might call for some exceptional measures, but in no way can this lead to shutting down democracy and trampling on the rule of law. It is shameful this dreadful corona is abused in such a manner. The Commission and the Council should now take actions without prevarication."
Under Orban’s Premiership, Hungary has extended emergency measures before: and in fact, still operates under a state of emergency declared in 2015 at the onset of Europe’s refugee crisis.