The notoriously authoritarian leader has given himself infinite power to lock down all aspects of daily life and borders in the country – without any specified end date. His ruling Fidesz party, which holds a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament, won a crucial vote on Monday, that essentially handed Mr Orban opportunities to bypass their assembly on any law, putting the country under his sole control for as long as he sees fit. Mr Orban’s new powers include imposing prison sentences of up to eight years for anyone spreading misinformation or flouting the coronavirus quarantine rules.
The indefinite state of emergency hands him the right to rule-by-decree, with any planned national elections cancelled until further notice, effectively enabling him to remain in power.
After the Bill was passed in the Hungarian parliament, Mr Orban insisted the emergency measure “poses no threat to democracy”.
In an astonishing repose to the move, the European Commission claimed it would not stand in the way of any capital’s restrictive measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak in Hungary, which has seen 525 infections and 20 deaths so far.
The Commission’s chief spokesman said: “We are blocking no one from doing what it takes.
“We will, however, remain vigilant across the board in all member states on the fact we do this based on the standards that we have in the European Union in all policy areas.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned emergency pandemic measures enforced by EU governments should be “strictly proportionate”, but stopped short of naming Hungary.
The EU figurehead said only that it would “analyse” the new Hungarian law and “closely monitor” its application
Brussels has now come under attack for this response from furious critics, accusing the EU of being powerless.
R. Daniel Kelemen, Professor of Political Science and Law, and Jean Monnet Chair in EU Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey, lashed out at several of the bloc’s leaders, including Ms von der Leyen, Donald Tusk and Manfred Weber.
He tweeted: “Well @EPP @EPPGroup @vonderleyen @donaldtuskEPP @ManfredWeber @CDU @CSU @cdavandaag @lesRepublicains – what do you have to say for yourselves now?
“Proud of giving the EU its first dictatorship?”
He also told the Los Angeles Times newspaper: “It’s a dangerous signal to aspiring autocrats as to what they can get away with during the crisis.”
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Norbert Röttgen, head of the German parliament’s influential foreign affairs committee, tweeted: “The EU Commission has to act immediately.
“The EU26, including Germany, have to demonstrate that they will not tolerate this abuse of the corona-crisis.”
Kenneth Roth, executive director at the Human Right Watch campaign group, raged: “Hungarian PM Viktor Orban’s planned emergency rule would let him “govern without meaningful control,” giving him “a free hand to do away with even what’s left of the free press.”
“Wake up, European Union!”
A furious Twitter user said: “European Union is useless. Why pretend to care about human rights and European values if you let Orban and the Polish right to do what ever they want?”
Several other leaders have demanded Hungary be stripped of EU membership.
Sophie in’t Veld, a Dutch liberal MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s rule of law group, said: “Viktor Orbán has completed his project of killing democracy and the rule of law in Hungary. Clearly, the actions of the Hungarian government are incompatible with EU membership.”
Mr Röttgen also tweeted the move from Mr Orban “effectively eliminates opposition” and was a breach of basic principles the EU “cannot accept”.
Alexander Stubb, a leading figure in the European People’s Party, the EU’s main centre-right grouping, said that if ever the time had come to expel Mr Orban’s Fidesz party from the EPP, “that moment is now”.
The former Prime Minister of Finland said: “When you start encroaching on the basic principles of what we stand for the punishment needs to be as severe as possible.
“This is in many ways a test of leadership for the whole EU and the EPP as well.”
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