March 31, 2020
Orbán's power grab
Victor Orbàn used the Covid-19 pandemic to justify the concentration of his power with a new emergency law that passed the Hungarian parliament yesterday. The new bill extends the state of emergency without limit, suspends parliament and cancels elections. Parliament can still sit, but is only allowed to discuss matters related to the pandemic.
Parliament as well as the constitutional court have the right to revoke the state of emergency. This is the central line of defence against international criticism. But this assurance has no bite in practice. The alliance of Orbán's Fidesz and the KDNP has a two-thirds majority in parliament, which implies de facto an open-ended carte blanche. The constitutional court as an institution will not provide much of a check either, as it is full of Orbán loyalists.
What will the EU do? There will have to be a clear and decisive response at EU level. The EPP will have to expel Fidesz if they want to preserve any moral integrity. Member states have to back up with action their lukewarm protests against the continued erosion of checks and balances in Hungary. Matteo Renzi came out yesterday tweeting that many European liberals feel that Orbán threatens the values of the EU, and that Hungary thus merits expulsion from the bloc. There is no procedure for punitive action, nor is there unity, as Orbán has supporters in the EU too. And member states seem all too busy fighting the pandemic themselves. This makes Orbán's power grab even more creepy. We believe that, if the EU cannot mount a coherent stance in line with its professed values, it will sooner or later be destroyed from the inside or rendered irrelevant.