Hungary summons Nordic diplomats over rule-by-decree row

File photo. Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto holds a press conference after taking part in a video conference with the foreign ministers of Germany and the Visegrad Group (V4) countries in his office in Budapest, Hungary, 13 March 2020. [Marton Monus/EPA/EFE]

Hungary summoned the ambassadors of four Nordic countries on Monday (11 May) over their countries’ criticism of a controversial law that empowers Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to act by decree against the novel coronavirus.

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said on Sunday that he would summon the diplomats as Hungary “wanted no pitiful hypocritical tutelage” and reiterated Budapest would go its own way.

The law, which authorises Orbán to bypass parliament in taking action to contain the virus and mitigate its after-effects, has provoked international criticism.

Von der Leyen 'concerned' over Hungary virus emergency law

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen expressed “particular” concern on Thursday (2 April) over a coronavirus emergency law in Hungary that has given nationalist premier Viktor Orbán sweeping powers.

“When countries use the COVID-19 situation for actions that undermine fundamental rights, we insist on drawing attention to that,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told Reuters.

“Of course, the problem is not only related to COVID-19, but the situation has worsened because the Hungarians have taken a number of measures which among other things risk undermining press freedom,” Kofod said.

He added that there must be consequences – including financial ones – if fundamental values are not respected.

During Monday’s meeting, the Norwegian foreign ministry told Reuters that Hungarian State Secretary Péter Sztaray said he believed a 6 March letter by the five Nordic foreign ministers misrepresented the essence and formalities with regard to the Hungarian corona emergency act.

“The Nordic ambassadors explained and reiterated the concern of the Nordic countries concerning the Hungarian corona emergency act, particularly the unlimited in time emergency powers and the provisions concerning the criminalisation of incorrect information, putting journalists under additional stress,” a Norwegian foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

The Council of Europe, the EU’s main human rights body, warned Hungary about its democratic backsliding and issues over freedom of expression in a 24 March letter by Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić.

The foreign ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden wrote to Buric on 6 May saying they “share the concerns expressed in that letter. Even in an emergency situation the rule of law must prevail.”

Orbán has been at odds with European Union institutions since taking power in 2010, going head to head over economic policies, alleged corruption, immigration and his ever-expanding influence over all walks of life.

Orbán has told Buric that the law does not give him unlimited powers and can be withdrawn by parliament – where his Fidesz party holds a two-thirds majority – at any time.

The ambassadors of Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway attended Monday’s meeting. Iceland’s mission to Hungary is based in Vienna.

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