Earlier this month, the European Humanist Federation signed an open letter to EU institutions about the grave breaches of democracy by Hungarian authorities. A coalition of civil society organisations denounced the law adopted at the end of March, granting very broad and indefinite powers to the government, as a flagrant attack on the cornerstones of the rule of law and the values of the Union.
A few weeks later, the Hungarian government has already made extensive use of powers, in a way that strengthens the autocratic character of Orban’s government and breaches fundamental rights of Hungarian citizens. The EHF expresses its consternation and concern over several measures recently taken by Hungarian authorities.
A first matter of concern is the militarisation of the health system and of the economy. The government installed military officers to take command of hospitals. On government instructions, they sent home 36 000 terminally and/or chronically ill persons in order to free hospital beds. This measure puts the life of these persons at grave risk, in violation of elementary considerations of humanity.
The government has created a “Task Force Responsible for the Security of Essential Hungarian Companies” with the leadership of the Minister of Defence. This body can decide to take over companies deemed “strategic” and can fire their Board of Directors. The military has already taken control of about 150 companies. The government’s commissioner has the exclusive right to decide on matters within the competence of the General Assembly of the company.
The militarisation of society is unnecessary to fight a pandemic and at odds with the normal functioning of an open civil society.
Other decrees taken under the Emergency Law give the government access to people’s personal data for fighting the pandemic. Moreover, employers can now derogate from the labour code and collective bargaining by a mere agreement with employees. In the current context, this measure may suspend basic labour protection.
Contrary to declarations by Hungary’s Justice Minister, there is no effective control over government use of extraordinary powers. As has been widely documented over the years, democratic checks and balances have been suspended.
The large majority by Fidesz, Viktor Orban’s party, means that an effective parliamentary control is at best unlikely, not to say illusory. Moreover, as a supermajority of 2/3 is needed to repel the law on Emergency powers, the decision to stop or limit government’s powers are at the discretion of government and its majority.
Judicial control is no more effective, as a recently adopted decree severely limits the work of ordinary courts and the constitutional court has been fully packed with Orban’s supporters over the years. Despite being in principle open, it is thus very unlikely that the constitutional court would challenge the emergency law or measures taken under these powers.
Measures taken by the Hungarian government under the pretext of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic are breaches of fundamental rights. The overall situation shows contempt for democratic principles and the rule of law. Viktor Orban has used this public health emergency to consolidate his authoritarian regime.
The EHF is appalled by the turn of events in Hungary and calls for a clear and resolute reaction of the European Union to protect rights of Hungarian citizens.
We are committed to human rights, the rule of law and democracy. The main source of inspiration for our viewpoints and actions are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its fundamental values: freedom, equality, solidarity and human dignity. Humanism cannot flourish under an authoritarian regime. Human beings can only thrive in societies where fundamental rights and freedoms are guaranteed.