Hungary: Democracy under quarantine
Under this current crisis, we now face not only a risk to our health but a threat to democracy in the EU. The European Youth Forum is deeply concerned by Hungary’s adopted “Bill on Protection against the Coronavirus”, which will have detrimental consequences for democracy and human rights in Hungary.
On Monday 30 March 2020, the Hungarian parliament passed a new set of measures under the pretext of fighting the COVID-19 crisis that allows Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree for an unlimited period. As long as this indefinite state of emergency is in effect, by-elections and referendums can no longer be held in the country and the system of checks and balances is compromised. The new legislation will also allow up to five years of imprisonment for those accused of spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 crisis.
In order to legitimately prioritise public health, governments across Europe and around the world are being forced to take emergency measures, in many cases resulting in limiting rights and fundamental freedoms. However, under no circumstances must these emergency powers be misused or in any way override the rule of law.
For the last decade, the Hungarian Government has continuously violated human rights, democracy and freedom of speech, setting a dangerous precedent for other European countries. As an EU Member State, Hungary has already been seen to be in breach of the EU’s founding principles including respect for democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights. As well as enforcing a level of media control described as unprecedented for an EU Union member state, the European Youth Forum has also previously condemned the shrinking civic space in Hungary, which is continuing to impact the democratic rights of civil society to function freely and independently.
In this context, the European Youth Forum is extremely worried that these measures will constitute a further chilling effect on civil society and the freedom of the press in Hungary, effectively silencing any remaining dissenting voices.
The European Youth Forum calls on all EU institutions to go beyond initial statements and take a strong stand against the disproportionate and indefinite transfer of power seen in Hungary this week.
Strong and decisive actions must be taken to ensure that there are repercussions for violating EU principles, as well as protection for independent civil society and those practising free speech. In such uncertain and critical times, standing up for democracy and human rights is the only way to ensure that the European Union is protecting its founding values and citizens.