Coronavirus: Rule of law under attack in southeast Europe

Several states in central and southeastern Europe are using the COVID-19 crisis to undermine the principles and institutions upholding the rule of law. First among them is Hungary.

To curb the COVID-19 outbreak, countries around the world have been forced to accept wide-ranging restrictions on public life. People have been told to stay at home, respect curfews and avoid any unnecessary travel — all in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.

Several countries in central and southeastern Europe, however, appear to be taking advantage of the crisis to undermine the rule of law, with Hungary leading the way. On March 20, Viktor Orban’s right-wing nationalist government presented a draft law that would give the executive branch dictatorial powers for an unlimited period of time. Known as the “law to protect against the coronavirus,” it’s expected to be approved by next week.

Hungary has already called a state of emergency in order to respond to the outbreak, which as of Tuesday afternoon had infected 187 people and killed nine. But the special powers granted to the government during this time only last for 15 days and must be extended by parliament.

Under the new law, which would come into force after a one-off vote by parliament, the state of emergency would be in place indefinitely, allowing the government to issue any decrees to protect the population and stabilize the economy that deviate from existing law…

Hungarian NGOs and critics have also expressed great concern, including left-wing philosopher, Gaspar Miklos Tamas. “When we see the Orban government using the epidemic as a pretext to introduce an open, structural dictatorship, how can we still believe that restrictive measures are justified and well-founded?” he wrote in an article for HVG magazine.

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