The Hungarian parliament on Tuesday called to end the country’s controversial “state of danger” but granted the government wide-ranging new powers that could see it continue to rule by decree.
A decision in March to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government to rule by decree indefinitely sparked criticism from opposition parties, international rights groups and members of the European Parliament. The Hungarian government rejected those concerns, insisting that its actions are in line with democratic norms and that rule by decree is a temporary approach to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
On Tuesday, the country’s parliament asked for an end to the current “state of danger,” though the decision to give up the ability to rule by decree remains at the discretion of Orbán’s government.
The parliament also voted to give the government the power to declare a “state of medical crisis” and during this time to rule by decree.
A government spokesperson said following the vote that “the government will now give back its special powers, while maintaining the epidemiological preparedness in anticipation of a second wave of the epidemic,” in line with comments made by Orbán in a radio interview last week.
The state of medical crisis could be called for six months and extended without any specific limits. During this period, the government would be allowed to restrict some rights, including organizing events. The special powers would be lifted upon the recommendation of a minister acting on the initiative of the country’s chief medical officer, a political appointee.
Hungarian rights activists said they are worried by the latest move.
Márta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, said that the government already used its powers to rule by decree to adopt over 120 emergency measures, “a number of [which] had nothing to do with COVID-related protection measures but were used to further weaken democratic principles.”
“In light of Prime Minister Orbán’s government’s track record … we are concerned that today’s vote can be just a smokescreen for maintaining unchecked and very broad government power,” Pardavi said.
The Hungarian government did not respond to a request for comment.
The European Commission has indicated it would be problematic if Hungary does not return to its previous legal order when emergency rule ends.
“This will be the moment of truth, [as to] whether the situation and the legal order and the balance of powers in Hungary will come back to the old normal … or there will be some remainders of the emergency regime, which we would see as a problem from the EU law point of view,” said Commission Vice President Věra Jourová