EU Countries Urge Emergency Restraint After Orban’s Power Grab

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(Bloomberg) -- The European Union rebuked Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for using the fight against the coronavirus pandemic to increase his powers.

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen named Hungary as the biggest source of concern for executive overreach in the crisis. Earlier, more than a dozen member states said they were “deeply concerned about the risk of violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights,” according to a joint statement published Wednesday that didn’t specifically name the country.

“I’m concerned that certain measures go too far, I’m particularly concerned with the situation in Hungary,” Von Der Leyen told reporters on Thursday. “We will take action as necessary as we have done already in the past.”

Hungary’s parliament, where Orban has a two-thirds majority, on Monday gave him the right to rule by decree indefinitely as long as he sees fit and the power to bypass the legislation on any law. The leader, who’s ruled the country continuously since 2010, has said the measure won’t threaten democracy and that he’d hand decision-making back to lawmakers when the pandemic passes.

But opponents see the move as an unprecedented power grab by a man who’s repeatedly clashed with the EU’s mainstream over the state of Hungary’s democracy and rule of law. The countries said in the statement they support the EU executive’s plan to monitor emergency measures and their application.

Human Rights

“I reject any authoritarian restriction like the one that happened in Hungary,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told lawmakers Thursday.

The government in Budapest said it supported the general message of the earlier joint declaration from the member states.

“We fully agree with the statement of thirteen Member States published yesterday that even in these challenging times we must uphold and defend the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights,” the Justice Ministry in Budapest said. “We deeply regret that the statement was not open for all Member States to join.”

Orban still has loyal allies in Warsaw and Prague, with whom he has fought to alter the EU’s migration policies. On Thursday, the bloc’s top court said Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had failed to comply with a decision to shelter refugees in line with national quotas.

Czech President Milos Zeman’s spokesman, Jiri Ovcacek, offered his support for Orban, tweeting a heart emoji next to the Hungarian flag in a post linking to a newspaper column defending the prime minister against an attack from “liberal media.”

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