Hungary's emergency law: how should the EU react?

EU Commission President von der Leyen has warned EU states against disproportionate crisis measures. With its approval of an emergency law, Hungary's parliament had previously given Prime Minister Orbán power to govern by decree for an unlimited time. Europe's press is worried that the model could set a precedent and demands swift action from Brussels.

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Die Presse (AT) /

Brussels must put its foot down

The EU cannot just stand by and watch any longer, warns the daily Die Presse:

“Apologists for the regime may point out that the parliament in Budapest has the democratic power to set limits on the government, but given the ruling party's majority in the plenary session this is just a pious hope. Anyone who makes this argument must also consider China to be a flawless democracy, because after all it has the People's Congress which is tasked with keeping an eye on the ruling communists. ... With this latest development the EU is slowly running out of arguments for not taking action. ... With an illiberal democracy in its midst the EU just about managed to get along. With an illiberal autocracy it can no longer do so.”

Sydsvenskan (SE) /

Cut off Orban's money supply

Brussels must now take more radical measures than in the past, Sydsvenskan demands:

“In 2017 the Commission initiated a so-called Article 7 procedure - the 'nuclear option' - against Poland for serious violations of EU values. Six months later, the Parliament voted to start the same procedure against Hungary. But unanimity is required here, and the two countries protect each other with their veto ... Now is the time to curb financial contributions to Hungary and tighten the screws in other ways. The EU cannot have a member state that doesn't respect common values, the rule of law and individual freedoms and rights. Hungary should be given an ultimatum: either it behaves as member states are required to behave or it leaves the Union.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Please stop the Budapest-Warsaw Express

Poland may take a similar path to Hungary, political scientist Bogdan Góralczyk fears in Rzeczpospolita:

“Viktor Orbán - who has proven in his long political career that he is striving for one thing only: maximising his power and money - has finally got what he's been dreaming of. Now he can govern by decree, alone and autonomously. ... In the 1990s the term 'Express from Warsaw' was coined in Hungary because events in Poland were always several months ahead of those in Hungary. ... Will the Express from Budapest now arrive at Warsaw Central Station? I hope it doesn't arrive with all its cars.”

Právo (CZ) /

A worrying sign

In the Czech Republic the defence minister has suggested that the prime minister be given all the powers he needs to lead the country in the event of a crisis. Právo warns against following Hungary's example:

“Prime Minister Orbán has ruled Hungary by decree since Monday. It's enough to send a cold shiver down your spine. But Andrej Babiš isn't impressed by this. ... It would indeed be worrying if the government were to take advantage of the state of emergency. ... So far we've seen that parliament supports the government's hastily prepared decisions - albeit without great enthusiasm. And we all remember the prime minister's promise not to exploit the situation to strengthen his own power.”

Magyar Demokrata (HU) /

State of emergency doesn't mean unlimited power

Despite the emergency law, Orbán's power is still limited, the pro-government paper Demokrata argues:

“Decrees and regulations that contradict the constitution can't be passed even under a system of special rules. The Constitutional Court continues to function and has the power to annul decrees that it considers problematic. ... The state of emergency is not to last longer than absolutely necessary [according to the new law] and regulations for averting the threat that are either unnecessary or disproportionate may not be passed. ... Although we are already familiar with Hungary's opposition it's astonishing and sad that it is unable to overcome its own frustration and Fidesz-phobia even amidst the worst pandemic in the last century.”

Magyar Hang (HU) /

Parliament no longer even a backdrop

The Orbán regime has never been more honest, the weekly paper Magyar Hang laments:

“Until now parliament has made little effort to control the government. Now a two-thirds majority of parliamentarians has explicitly declared that in the Orbán system, parliament doesn't even serve as a backdrop. And in any event, the government still acts as if it knows everything better than anyone else and doesn't need expert advice, much less proposals from the opposition.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Orbán can't do without the EU

Die Welt warns that the EU Commission must finally present a strategy on how to deal with countries like Hungary:

“All the plans for disciplinary measures on the table so far seem to be ineffective. ... The way Orbán has repeatedly referred to aid from China in the corona crisis, praised Asian societies as role models and fervently portrayed the EU as a weakling is bizarre. One might think this is just local propaganda. But the tragic thing is that Orbán's 'illiberal democracy' and the Hungarian welfare state could not survive without the EU. Neither Russia nor China would be real political or economic alternatives for Hungary. Orbán's power base is the EU - and von der Leyen should finally make him feel that.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

There will be elections in future

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung sees the law more as a diversionary tactic:

“The scenario painted by some critics according to which the emergency decree would allow Orbán to indefinitely postpone the parliamentary elections due to be held in two years' time is unrealistic. Even Orbán won't dare to do that, because it would make Hungary definitively unacceptable in the EU. However, the coronavirus poses a considerable risk to the government. The healthcare system is in a catastrophic state. ... While Orbán was investing millions of forints in stupid propaganda, patients in Hungarian hospitals had to bring their own toilet paper or food. ... In such a scenario it helps to discredit the opposition as 'allies of the virus' because of their rejection of the emergency regime, and to impose long prison sentences for spreading 'false information'.”

El Mundo (ES) /

A slippery slope

The pandemic must not be used to abolish democracy in Hungary or anywhere else in Europe, El Mundo stresses:

“The EU cannot continue to look the other way and confine itself to sterile threats that have no effect on Orbán. At at time when Brussels' leadership is already being questioned because of its management of the current crisis the European project could be torpedoed for good if it allows an EU member to put an end to liberal democracy. Hungary is an extreme case. But all over Europe we see how the fight against the virus is giving governments an excuse - and Spain is no exception - to evade the necessary parliamentary control and accountability. This is the slippery slope to authoritarianism.”