The European Commission President couldn’t bring herself to name Budapest’s authoritarian prime minister in her desperate request for EU capitals to respect the bloc’s values while tackling the coronavirus crisis. In an extraordinary power grab, Mr Orban yesterday won the right to indefinitely rule by decree until his government decides to end its state of emergency. The staggering new law removes the need for MPs in the country’s decision-making process and bans elections from being held until the end of the emergency period.
It also introduces tough prisons sentences for anyone spreading “falsehoods” about COVID-19 or Mr Orban’s measures to fight the disease, sparking fears for press freedom in Hungary.
Mrs von der Leyen urged national governments to protect the “values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights” the EU was built upon in the fight against coronavirus.
In a statement, she added: “Over the past weeks, several EU governments took emergency measures to address the health crisis caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“We are living in extraordinary times, and governments, in principle, need to have the necessary tools to act rapidly and effectively to protect the public health of our citizens.
“It is of utmost importance that emergency measures are not at the expense of our fundamental principles and values as set out in the Treaties.
“Democracy cannot work without free and independent media. Respect for freedom of expression and legal certainty are essential in these uncertain times.
“Now, it is more important than ever that journalists are able to do their job freely and precisely, so as to counter disinformation and to ensure that our citizens have access to crucial information.”
As national lockdowns are extended across the bloc, the EU Commission has vowed to “closely monitor” its members’ actions.
Last night EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders called out the Hungarian government as just one of the reasons the Brussels-based executive might have to clampdown on member states’ coronavirus measures.
Writing on Twitter, the Belgian eurocrat said: “The Commission evaluates the emergency measures taken by member states with regard to fundamental rights.
“This is particularly the case for the law passed in Hungary concerning the state of emergency and new criminal penalties for the dissemination of false information.”
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Critics condemned Mr Orban’s coronavirus measures, which they claim hands the Hungarian prime minister unlimited powers to cement his powers rather than tackle the deadly disease.
David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary Director, said: “This is not the way to address the very real crisis that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need strong safeguards to ensure that any measures to restrict human rights adopted under the state of emergency are strictly necessary and proportional in order to protect public health.”
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Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi called for Brussels to kick Hungary from the bloc unless Mr Orban surrenders his powers.
“I have been dreaming of a United States of Europe for years,” Mr Renzi wrote on Twitter.
“Precisely for this reason, I have the right, and the duty, to say that after what Orban has done today, the European Union must act and make him change his mind. Or, simply expel Hungary from the Union.”
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