Following international outrage, the Hungarian government’s announcement to revoke the rule-by-decree and state of emergency law this week at first glance seems a positive step. But don’t let Orban’s authoritarian regime fool you. The government is ending the current state of emergency but simultaneously has presented another bill to preserve the possibility for Orban to rule by decree. In its current form, the bill would allow the government to yet again rule by decree for an undefined period of time with minimal judicial and parliamentary scrutiny.
If adopted, the bill would give the government the power to order any and all measures it deems necessary without parliamentary approval, including suspending laws, to respond to the current and future public health emergencies. The bill would also allow the government to declare a “state of medical emergency” on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of the State – a position under government control – giving the government the power to curtail fundamental rights such as freedom of movement and assembly for six months, renewable indefinitely. Both introducing and ending this legal measure would be entirely up to the government, with no parliamentary scrutiny and little to no possibility for judicial review.
So the move to scrap the existing state of emergency law does not end concerns of authoritarianism, but rather double-downs on Orban’s power grab. An initial period of six months for a state of medical emergency is neither necessary nor proportionate, particularly when there is nothing to prevent the government from extending it permanently. This is especially concerning considering that the government has diligently extended the “state of crisis due to mass migration” in place since September 2015 every six months based on similar legal sidestepping of parliamentary oversight.
This is just another example of the Fidesz government using, as it has for the past ten years, its two-thirds parliamentary majority to rubber-stamp multiple rights-abusing laws and authoritarian-style measures, including amending the constitution to suit the ruling party, politically compromising the judiciary, restricting the independent media, harassing and criminalizing civil society, and targeting academic freedom. Add to that a mix of xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and contempt for women’s rights and you have a perfect recipe for authoritarian rule.
European Union institutions failed to react to the Covid-19 state of emergency law. The EU Commission shouldn’t let Orban get away with this latest power-grab.