On the 30th of March, the Hungarian Government passed a bill that extended the power of the current Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree for an unlimited time period, allowing him a quick promulgation of law without prior approval of the parliament. In addition, the bill suspends any elections and the referendums for the time period of the state of emergency in the country. The bill “anti-coronavirus defense law” includes imprisonment up to 5 years for cases in which false news or misinformation about COVID-19 are spread or up to 8 years, in case quarantine measures are not respected.
Following these developments, there have been attempts to pass two further questionable bills. One bill, that was widely criticized by Hungarian politicians, aimed to limit the decision-making power of mayors in Hungary and was withdrawn just a few hours after the announcement. Another bill aims to introduce the term “sex at the birth” forbidding the legal change of one’s gender. This builds up from the previous decision of Orbán’s government to not ratify the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe, because they refuse the definition of gender contained in the Convention’s explanatory report (“socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men”).
Orbán’s measures have been criticised both inside and outside of the country. Within the EPP (Fidesz’s political group in the European Parliament), 13 parties from 11 different Member States have already called to remove Orban’s party from the political group. 16 Member States of the EU (as of the 3rd of April) have released a statement supporting the decision of the European Commission to closely monitor the implementation of emergency measures amid the COVID-19 crisis of all Member States. The president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has also expressed concerns with the measures taken during the pandemic, especially “the situation in Hungary”. However, the reaction by the European Commission to this clear breach of democratic values within the EU is far from what the situation requires.
On the 16th and 17th of April, the European Parliament will hold an extraordinary session to proceed with the work on measures regarding the ongoing pandemic. The majority of political group leaders are concerned with the situation in Hungary and their measures to tackle the pandemic, and asked European Parliament President David Sassoli to address this concern in an open letter to the Commission to consider invoking Article 7 of the Treaty of European Union.
Before the bill had passed, it was already criticized by Rupert Colville, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Hungarian Government responded to these claims stating that ”false claims of a power grab in Hungary are just that” and stating that their only aim was “the protection of human lives”.
AEGEE has already spoken critically of the situation in Hungary, with the most recent example being the dispute between the Central European University and the Hungarian Government, which ended with the relocation of the university to Vienna. Hungary is the only country in the EU that according to Freedom House Index has been ranked as “partly free”. Already in 2017, MEPs called for triggering Article 7 against Hungary.
Even though AEGEE understands the need for extraordinary measures to control the situation during the times of COVID-19 global pandemic, all measures should be in line with EU’s founding principles and international human rights. We condemn the decision to limit democratic measures and impede rule of law, and highlight the importance of all European Institutions involved to act united and immediately to preserve the democracy, rule of law and EU values in Hungary by taking concrete actions.
Therefore, AEGEE-Europe demands that the European Commissions takes a more vocal stance with regard to the diminishing of democratic values in Hungary, and the measures in its power to ensure that Hungarian citizens of the European Union can live and participate in a truly democratic country.