Thirteen European Union countries expressed concern over Hungary’s new law which enhances government powers to tackle the novel coronavirus epidemic in a joint statement on Wednesday.
“In this unprecedented situation, it is legitimate that Member States adopt extraordinary measures to protect their citizens and overcome the crisis,” the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden said in the statement published on the websites of their respective foreign ministries.
The countries added, however, that they were “deeply concerned about the risk of violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights arising from the adoption of certain emergency measures”. They said Hungary should limit emergency measures to “what is strictly necessary” which should be proportionate and temporary in nature. In addition, the measures should be subject to regular scrutiny and must respect the principles of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights as well as international legal obligations. The emergency measures must not restrict the freedom of expression or the media, the statement added.
Member states must work together to overcome the coronavirus crisis and uphold European principles and values, they said. “We therefore support the European Commission initiative to monitor the emergency measures and their application to ensure the fundamental values of the Union are upheld, and invite the General Affairs Council to take up the matter when appropriate,” the statement said.
Hungary govt not granted unlimited powers, Kovacs tells BBC
Hungary’s epidemic response law does not grant the government unlimited powers, nor has the government ever wanted such authority, Zoltan Kovacs, the state secretary for international communications and relations, said in an interview with the BBC on Wednesday. Parliament remains the highest organ of state power in Hungary, Kovacs said, adding that it would be “regrettable” if the government were granted unlimited powers. Parliament can withdraw the special powers granted to the government whenever it deems that the current crisis has abated, he said.
Kovacs stressed that parliament has not been suspended and that the sole reason for the need to govern by decree was so that the government could continue to combat the novel coronavirus epidemic. In response to a question, Kovacs dismissed allegations that Hungary was headed towards a dictatorship as “ridiculous”, adding that the government had been at the receiving end of such accusations for ten years.
Gulyas: Mayoral powers to remain intact during state of emergency
The government has decided to drop an amendment proposal that would have stripped some powers from local mayors in a state of emergency, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said on Wednesday, adding that mayors will continue to be able to exercise their powers as before. Speaking to MTI, Gergely Gulyas said that in recent weeks the opposition parties had criticised the practice of giving mayors the power to govern without convening the municipal assembly in a state of emergency. The bill submitted by the government on Tuesday would have remedied this situation, he said.
“But since those who until now have been critical of this regulation no longer support changing it and because the government aims to ensure the broadest possible cooperation regardless of partisan affiliation, it is willing to back down from the amendment,” Gulyas said. “Mayors will continue to be able to exercise their powers in the state of emergency as before.”
Under Hungary’s disaster management law, the powers of municipal assemblies are taken over by the local mayor or county assembly chair in a state of emergency. However, an amendment proposal submitted to parliament by the government on Tuesday would have made all mayoral and county assembly chair decisions subject to approval by a local defence committee.
Before Gulyas’s announcement, opposition Democratic Coalition’s deputy group leader Gergely Arato said the government was taking revenge on local councils for last year’s elections where it suffered a defeat.
The government has “unexpectedly and to a significant extent” expanded its room for manoeuvre to the detriment of municipalities, “clearly abusing its powers” granted in Monday’s coronavirus law, LMP board secretary Mate Kanasz-Nagy said.
Source and photo: MTI