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Mar 27, 2020

Justice Minister responds to false claims of a power grab in Hungary

The government’s primary concern is the protection of human lives. Those voicing unfounded concerns about democracy and the rule of law in Hungary are fighting an imaginary enemy. Meanwhile, we’ll keep fighting a real one: the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a commentary piece forPolitico, Justice Minister Judit Varga has responded to false claims of a power grab in Hungary, which are spreading as quickly as the coronavirus itself.

Minister Varga said that like many other European Union countries, Hungary acted swiftly and decisively to contain the epidemic sweeping across Europe. The government declared a state of emergency and proposed a bill — which will go in front of parliament on Monday — to empower the government to pass decrees to protect its citizens.

No sooner had the government acted than critics began to attack Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for exploiting the situation to consolidate his power.

The minister said these attacks are, once again, evidence that the some Western European thinkers believe it is their raison d’être to discredit the Hungarian government at every opportunity — a government whose “sin” is that it pursues a coherent, Christian-Conservative policy.

If the EU wants to be able to claim it is a union of equal members, it needs to drop its double standards, she added.

In declaring a state of emergency, Hungary sought to protect the life and health of its citizens and to enable the relevant authorities to take the required measures. We are not alone in having reacted to the epidemic in this way: A number of EU member countries have also taken exceptional measures in response to the rising number of infections.

The justice minister said political attacks against the Hungarian government are based on an incorrect interpretation, or in some cases intentional distortion, of the contents of the draft bill. Unfortunately, these attacks have also been channeled through the EU institutions and the international community too.

Those who criticize the measures should read the bill first, before lecturing the government and echoing charges levied against us by the opposition, as there is no substance to claims Hungary acted disproportionately.

In line with Hungary’s Fundamental Law, any exceptional measures taken by the government during a state of emergency remain in force for 15 days, unless the government — with the authorization of the parliament — extends those measures. The government has requested that authorization in order to extend the measures and adopt new ones as required by the exceptional circumstances.

The minister said the bill does not seek to remove democratic checks and balances. It expressly provides the parliament with the power to revoke the authorization — either in general or in the case of specific measures — accorded to the government at any time it sees appropriate. The bill cannot and does not contain any restrictions on the activities of the parliament; therefore the parliament remains perfectly capable of exercising its right of oversight and control.

The authorization that is given to the government is also limited, she added. It may only adopt exceptional measures that are necessary and proportionate in the context of the coronavirus pandemic to protect citizens’ life, health and security, as well as the stability of the national economy. The proposal also guarantees that the measures passed under the state of emergency are not repealed even if the parliament is not be able to convene due to the pandemic. The measures will cease to apply when the state of emergency ends.

Rule of law, of course, is not suspended: All authorities will continue to operate in the constitutional and legal framework applicable.

The minister said the proposed amendment to the criminal code — which would sanction those who intentionally spread falsehoods or distortions in relation to the epidemic — has also been grossly misinterpreted, with some claiming that it would allow the government to punish members of the opposition.

Only intentional false statements made to the general public that could obstruct or frustrate defense efforts would be sanctioned. This provision is both adequate and necessary in order to fight malicious disinformation campaigns.

The minister said the hysterical reaction to the government’s measures is an echo of what happened during the migration crisis in 2015, when Hungary decided to defend its borders against an external threat. In doing so, it was also protecting Europe’s borders. But the government was heavily criticized for the move and has been in the leftist-liberal media’s crossfire ever since.

Minister Varga said Western Europe owes an apology to the prime minister for how he was treated in 2015, given all he did to protect the EU’s borders during a time of crisis.

Of course, we are aware that this is unlikely — and do not expect gratitude or thanks. What we do expect, however, is equal and fair treatment, which are supposed to be common EU values.

If the EU wants to be able to claim it is a union of equal members, it needs to drop its double standards.

The minister said those worried about the Hungarian government’s emergency measures should take a closer look at what is being done in every member of the EU, rather than single out one country. Others have taken unprecedented steps to cut the number of their MPs, empower a caretaker government and introduce drastic curfews, to mention just a few examples.

Countries are doing everything they can in order to fight an emergency and the last thing they need now is a lecture. It’s impossible to protect people from this epidemic under peacetime rules.

The minister said the measures Hungary has taken are necessary, proportionate and limited to fighting the pandemic. Moreover, parliament may revoke them at any time.

The government’s primary concern is the protection of human lives. Those voicing unfounded concerns about democracy and the rule of law in Hungary are fighting an imaginary enemy. Meanwhile, we’ll keep fighting a real one: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Magyar Nemzet