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By surrendering to autocracy in the fight against COVID-19, Hungary poisons European ideals 21 Apr 2020

On March 30, 2020, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a text that allows the government to suspend the enforcement of certain laws, depart from provisions enshrined in the existing ones and implement additional extraordinary measures by decree for a practically unlimited period of time, with new limitations on media and information.

We Europeans need to fight two viruses, simultaneously and equally vehemently: Covid-19, attacking our bodies, and yet another infection targeting our ideals and democracies. 

On March 30, 2020, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a text that allows the government to suspend the enforcement of certain laws, depart from provisions enshrined in the existing ones and implement additional extraordinary measures by decree for a practically unlimited period of time, with new limitations on media and information. 

Such a concentration of power is unprecedented in the European Union. It does not serve the fight against Covid-19 or its economic consequences; instead, it opens the door to all types of abuses, with both public and private assets now at the mercy of an executive that is largely unaccountable. It is the culmination of Hungary’s 10-year drift towards authoritarianism, and it is dangerous. 

Indeed, it is with great concern that we observed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán embark his country on a track diverging from European norms and values over the last decade. This power-grab in response to Covid-19 is just a new and alarming chapter in a long process of democratic backsliding.

Political opposition, social dialogue, and free speech have increasingly been silenced, with various universities, cultural hubs, business groups and civil society organisations suffering the burden of Mr. Orbán’s authoritative rule.

The European Parliament has twice analysed and condemned this undemocratic drift with the Tavares and Sargentini reports in 2013 and 2018 respectively.

For those who believe in the values of rule of law and democratic government, inaction is not an option. The Union risks discrediting all its efforts to foster democratic processes, the rule of law, transparency, solidarity, and social dialogue not only in all Member States but amongst candidate countries as well.

To face this generation-defining pandemic, all EU countries must adopt difficult measures that, to some extent, limit their citizens’ civil rights. However, these measures should remain proportionate and justified, and temporary in nature.

Enabling the rule by government decrees for a practically unlimited time, is a severe violation of EU Treaties, of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

That is why, denouncing and sanctioning Mr. Orbán’s attack on democracy is more crucial today than ever.

We therefore call on all stakeholders - European institutions, national institutions and governments, citizens, civil society, and the media - to be as vigilant as they can. It is time for widespread mobilisation and collective action. 

We call on national media to dedicate news segments to the Hungarian situation, daily if needs be. We also ask them to grant Hungarian citizens, as European citizens, free access to their content as a source of pluralistic and independent information.

We call on the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, to urgently react and propose sanctions proportional to the seriousness of such an unacceptable violation of European rules and values.

The European Parliament and the Council should adopt these sanctions without delay. 

Covid-19 must and will be beaten thanks to democratic processes, transparent action, and pluralistic information. It is by defending these values that we will mobilise the European population at large and ensure our common road to recovery enjoys widespread support.

We finally call on all European citizens to look at what is happening in Hungary not as an externality but as a fundamental threat to our common interest. 

It is time for all of us to unite in this fight. What is at stake is not only our health, but our shared ideals, and the survival of our Union and democracies. 

 

At the initiative of CIVICO Europa Members: 

László Andor (HU), Economist, former Member of the European Commission 

Guillaume Klossa (FR), Co-President of CIVICO Europa, former Director of the European Broadcasting Union, former Sherpa to the reflection group on the future of Europe (European Council) 

Francesca Ratti (IT), Co-President of CIVICO Europa, former Deputy Secretary General of European Parliament 

Guy Verhofstadt (BE), MEP, former Prime Minister 

 

With the Civico Europa contributors :

Gian-Paolo Accardo (IT), Editor in chief of VoxEuropa

Brando Benifei (IT), MEP

Carl Bildt (SE), former Prime Minister  

Andras Bozoki (HU), Professor, former Minister of Culture

Jean-Pierre Bourguignon (FR), mathematician, former President of the European Research Council

Saskia Bricmont (BE), MP

Philippe de Buck (BE), former DG Business Europe

Jasmina Cibic (SLO), Artist

Tremeur Denigot (FR), Director of communications CIVICO Europa

Mladen Dolar (SLO), Philosopher

Paul Dujardin (BE), BOZAR Director General

Pascal Durand (FR), MEP

Uffe Ellemann-Jensen (DK), former Minister of Foreign Affairs

Michele Fiorillo (IT), Philosopher, Responsible for civic movements network CIVICO Europa

Cynthia Fleury (FR), Philosopher, Psychoanalyst

Markus Gabriel (DE), Philosopher

Sandro Gozi (IT), MEP, President of the European Federalist Union, former Secretary of State for European Affairs

Ulrike Guerot (DE), Political scientist

David Harley (UK), Writer, former Deputy Secretary General of the European Parliament

Gábor Horváth (HU), Journalist

Danuta Hübner (PL), MEP, former Member of the European Commission

Tvrtko Jakovina (HR), Historian

Miljenko Jergovic (HR), writer and journalist

Jean-Claude Juncker (LU), former Prime Minister, former President of the European Commission

Jyrki Katainen (FI), former Prime Minister, former Vice-president of the European Commission

Aleksander Kwasniewski (PL), former President of the Republic

Christophe Leclercq (FR), Founder Euractiv

Christian Leffler (SE), former Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service

Sándor Léderer (HU), Co-founder and Director of K-Monitor

Bernard-Henri Lévy (FR), Philosopher

Sven-Otto Littorin (SE), former Minister for Employment

Cecilia Malmström (SE), former member of the European Commission

Henri Malosse (FR), 30th President of the European Economic and social Committee

Joelle Milquet (BE), former special Adviser of the President of the European Commission, former Deputy Prime Minister

Alexandra Mitsotaki (GR), President of the World Human Forum

Carlos Moedas (PT), former Member of the European Commission

John Monks (UK), Member of the House of Lords, former Secretary general of the European Trade Union Conference

Jonathan Moskovic (BE), Adviser in democratic innovation

Niklas Nordstrom (SE), former Mayor of Lulea and former Chairman of Business Sweden

Stojan Pelko (SLO), former State Secretary for culture

Rosen Plevneliev (BU), former President of the Republic

Magali Plovie (BE), President of the French-speaking Brussels Parliament

Miguel Poiares Maduro (PT), former Minister for Regional Development

Wojciech Przybilski (PL), Editor of Visegrad Insight 

Vesna Pusic (HR), Sociologist, MP, former Deputy Prime Minister and former Minister of Foreign Affairs

Nina Rawal (SE), Entrepreneur

Michel Reimon (AT), former MEP

Maria Joao Rodrigues (PT), former Minister, former MEP, President of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS)

Petre Roman (RO), former Prime Minister

Taavi Roivas (EST), former Prime Minister

Lavinia Sandru (RO), Journalist

Fernand Savater (ESP), Philosopher

Roberto Saviano (IT), Writer, journalist

Seid Serdarević (HR), Publisher, Fraktura

Majda Sirca (SLO), former Minister for Culture

Denis Simonneau (FR), President of EuropaNova

Claus Sorensen (DK), former Director General at the European Commission

Gesine Schwan (DE), former Dean of the Frankfurt Viadrina University, former candidate to presidency of the Federal German Republic

Vladimir Spidla (CZ), former Prime Minister, former Member of the European Commission

Farid Tabarki (ND), Journalist, producer

Rui Tavares (PT), Writer, historian, former MEP

Zeljko Trkanjec (HR), Editor in Chief of Euractiv.hr

Monika Vana (AT), MEP

Alvaro de Vasconcelos (PT), former Director of the European Union Security

Institute

Cedric Villani (FR), Fields Medal, MP

Pietro Vimont (FR), Cofounder of CIVICO Europa

Margot Wallström (SE), former vice-president of the European commission 

Sasha Waltz & Jochen Sanding (DE), respectively Choreographer and Director of the Sasha Waltz Company

Josef Weidenholzer (AT), Professor, former MEP

Marlene Wind (DK), Professor, writer

Slavoj Zizek (SLO), Philosopher

Alenka Zupancic (SLO), Philosopher