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.
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.”
🇪🇺 @EU_Commission evaluates the emergency measures taken by Member States with regard to fundamental rights. This is particularly the case for the law passed today in #Hungary concerning the state of emergency and new criminal penalties for the dissemination of false information.
— didier reynders (@dreynders) March 30, 2020
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.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]