13 EU countries say ‘deeply concerned’ about democracy

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán arrives for the second day of a Special European Council summit in Brussels, Belgium, 21 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL]

Thirteen European governments said they are ‘deeply concerned’ about the risk of violations of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights, in a stab at Hungary’s recent emergency measures giving the government wide powers, including the right to rule by decree.

In a joint statement published on Wednesday (1 April), member states agreed that ‘unprecedented situation’ posed by the COVID-19 pandemic required ‘legitimate’ extraordinary measures, but stressed these must come with clear limits.

“Emergency measures should be limited to what is strictly necessary, should be proportionate and temporary in nature, subject to regular scrutiny, and respect the aforementioned principles and international law obligations,” wrote Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

“They should not restrict the freedom of expression or the freedom of the press,” they added.

Under the law approved the Hungarian Parliament on Monday (30 March) spreading “false fact or true facts distorted in a way” that could “impede or thwart” the effectiveness of defence measures against the coronavirus becomes punishable of one to five years of imprisonment.

Orbán to rule by decree with new powers to 'silence critics'

The Hungarian Parliament approved new emergency powers on Monday (30 March) that will allow the ruling Fidesz party the right to rule by decree, without a set time limit, in a move that prompted an outcry from human rights groups.

The member states said they supported the European Commission’s initiative to monitor the emergency measures and their application to ensure the fundamental values of the Union are upheld.

The EU executive “evaluates the emergency measures taken by member states with regard to fundamental rights,” the Commission’s justice chief, Didier Reynders, said on Monday (30 March), adding that this is ” particularly the case in Hungary.”

The thirteen European countries “invited” the General Affairs Council of EU ministers, which also deals with ongoing Article 7 procedure against Hungary and Poland, “to take up the matter when appropriate.”

Germany, a country that co-signed the letter, takes helm of the European Council this July.

The states, however, refrained from mentioning Hungary explicitly, following European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who faced criticism earlier this week for not pointing the finger directly at Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Von der Leyen warns against democratic backsliding without mentioning Hungary

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen warned on Tuesday (31 March) that coronavirus emergency measures by EU countries must be “limited”, in a veiled reference to Hungary’s nationalist leader Viktor Orbán, who used the pandemic to take on sweeping powers.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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