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Tensions rise between Hungary and Nordic countries over Orban’s emergency powers

Hungarian soldiers wearing face-masks patrolling in Budapest

Budapest, Hungary – In a sign of escalating tensions, Hungary has summoned the ambassadors of five Nordic states after their countries expressed concerns regarding PM Viktor Orban’s sweeping anti-coronavirus emergency powers.

Increased tensions between Hungary and Nordic countries over Orban’s rule-by-decree powers

On Sunday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that he would summon the envoys of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway after their respective governments warned that Orban’s new emergency powers could further undermine the rule of law in Hungary.

Last Wednesday, the foreign ministers of these five Nordic countries – including three EU member states – wrote a letter to Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric, saying they supported her stance on Hungary’s emergency legislation and the threat it represents for democracy.

In a previous statement, Buric had noted that “an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency cannot guarantee that the basic principles of democracy will be observed and that the emergency measures restricting fundamental human rights are strictly proportionate to the threat which they are supposed to counter”.

Although one of the first to warn of the dangers of Hungary’s emergency bill, the Council of Europe isn’t the only one concerned about the latest developments in Budapest.

Rule of law under threat in Hungary, warn rights groups

In an open letter, six major civil society organizations – including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders – expressed their deep concern over how Hungary is using the Covid-19 pandemic as “an opportunity to further restrict human rights and erode the rule of law”.

The legislation, which allows Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree without the approval of Parliament, has sparked concerns all over Europe, with rights groups warning that the Hungarian Premier could be using the coronavirus crisis as an excuse for an authoritarian power grab to further consolidate his power.

Critics also pointed out that Hungary, which has fallen to its lowest-ever position in Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom ranking, could use the pretense of cracking down on coronavirus fake news and disinformation to further muzzle independent media outlets and stifle freedom of the press.

Hungary not a democracy anymore, says Freedom House ranking

Hungarian authorities have dismissed claims of sweeping, open-ended emergency powers, saying that the bill’s provisions were not unlimited and could be revoked at any time by Parliament – where Orban’s governing Fidesz party holds a two-thirds majority.

Far from backing down, the Hungarian PM attacked anyone – both at home and abroad – who criticized the legislation, accusing opposition members of “siding with the virus” and the EU of trying to obstruct the government’s efforts to contain the outbreak.

Only a few days ago, the influential U.S. think-tank Freedom House warned of the rampant democratic backsliding in Hungary, now ranked in the category of “transitional/hybrid regimes” rather than a full-fledged democracy.

“Hungary’s decline has been the most precipitous ever tracked”, Freedom House said. “It was one of the three democratic front-runners as of 2005, but in 2020 it became the first country to descend by two regime categories and leave the group of democracies entirely”.

Main photo credit: Bloomberg