Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s statement on the situation in Hungary.

The Hungarian Parliament recently passed the Enabling Act to extend the Prime Minister’s power.  Viktor Orbán is using the coronavirus crisis to grab nearly unlimited power for an indefinite period.

The Enabling Act brings up painful memories in Germany.  In 1933 the German Reichstag (Diet) passed a similar Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz) which enabled Hitler’s government to issue decrees independently of the Reichstag and the Presidency. This legal framework gave the basis to carry out the first steps of National Socialist (Nazi) system in Germany.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Germany’s Justice Minister between 2009 and 2013 and currently the deputy chairwoman of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom has issued a statement on the situation in Hungary.   She is a highly respected lawyer, a Bavarian and was a member of the Bundestag for almost a quarter century.

György Lázár

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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Unlimited Power for an Indefinite Period 

The Enabling Act poses a serious threat to the rule of law in Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has extended his power in Hungary with a new law. Despite the spread of the new coronavirus: this shouldn’t have happened.

On Monday, the Hungarian Parliament passed the so-called “Enabling Act”.  In the future, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will therefore be able to govern by decree without parliamentary approval. The law does not have a time limit. The Hungarian government claims that the massive spread of the novel coronavirus is the reason for these legislative changes.

No crisis justifies the complete dismantling of democracy. In the shadow of the Corona crisis, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has extended his power even further – thereby undermining democracy, the rule of law and civil rights in Hungary. Even in a state of emergency, citizens are entitled to the protection of their fundamental rights. These rights must never be arbitrarily restricted.

On 20 March 2020, the government in Budapest submitted a Bill on the protection against the coronavirus to the Hungarian National Assembly. The draft seeks to extend the state of emergency that was declared by the government on 11 March.

 

Changes to Hungary’s Criminal Code

The Enabling Act was approved in the parliament on Monday and allows Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to govern by decree and without parliamentary approval. In addition, it does not include a sunset clause or any other provision that would ensure the parliament’s supervisory role.

The attempt to pass the Bill, by urgent procedure in parliament on March 23rd, failed due to the lack of the necessary four-fifths majority. However, the government re-submitted the Bill on March 30st. In the second round of voting, the Bill required a two-thirds majority – hence exactly the number of MPs that Orbán’s Fidesz party holds in parliament.

The Enabling Act will further amend the Criminal Code:  Anyone who publishes “false” or “distorted” facts that affect the “successful protection” of the public – or that alarm or upset the public – could be punished with up to five years in prison.

 

Deliberately Unclear Wording

The motion is deliberately vague. It does not clarify who decides what “false information” is, what exactly constitutes a “disturbance” of the quarantine or why a state of emergency is required for an indefinite period. From a legal perspective, there is no reason for this Enabling Act.

The law poses a serious threat to the rule of law in Hungary, which may also affect the operation of businesses. The government is currently setting up army coordination groups to monitor the operation of 140 companies in the public and private sectors, which provide important services (e.g. energy and retail trade).

 

Opposing Pluralism of Opinions Means Promoting a Totalitarian State

The last 10 years have been sufficient proof that the Hungarian government uses and abuses every opportunity to weaken institutions that serve to control its power. It is now doing so again on the pretext of combating the dangers posed by the coronavirus, as if this were not possible by constitutional democratic means. The adoption of the Enabling Act may further intensify the campaign against the opposition and the attacks on press freedom in Hungary.

In Hungary, press freedom and media pluralism have been systematically restricted since 2010, while pro-government media dominates the media landscape. The Enabling Act is another distressing low point in this development. Independent journalists, who were already accused by the government and its loyal media of disseminating disinformation before the crisis, are particularly alarmed.

For this reason, a group of lawyers, including former constitutional judges, has initiated an online petition against the law, which counts already more than 90,000 signatories. Democracy cannot function without free and independent media. In times of crisis, it is more important than ever that journalists can do their job to combat disinformation and ensure pluralism of opinion. Critical voices are enriching. Those who do not want pluralism of opinion want the totalitarian state.

The introduction of a state of emergency, as a special legal order, is not an extra-constitutional matter and must not become one either. Constitutional control over the decision to extend the state of emergency and the measures taken during that period must always be guaranteed. Moreover, the relationship between the Enabling Act and the Fundamental Law must be clearly defined, and a sunset clause limiting the period of the state of emergency must be included.

These are simple but fundamental democratic and constitutional principles – from which Hungary has now moved a step away.

 

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Pierre Divenyi says:

    Unfortunately the author has no power to even propose a remedy. What is needed at this point is a strongly worded ultimatum by the EU that orders Orban to withdraw the law-by-decree. If he does not, the Counsel would rescind Hungary’s membership immediately.

  2. Once more clueless fools are fighting Hitler instead of the spread of the virus. Today 1,300 people died in France alone. This is not the time to defend democratic values. It’s time to do whatever it takes to get things under control. No time to debate, worry about media freedom.

  3. Taking action by the EU preventing dictatorship in Hungary would not effect the fight against the Coronavirus.
    The fact is that the EU is an impotent, toothless , directionless organization.

  4. Joe
    Quite a good admission: don’t worry about democratic values, rule of law or media freedom, let Orbàn do what it takes, full power, Ermächtigungsgesetz.
    What is Orbàn doing in this real crisis, not windmills?
    He is rather failing in all respects:
    – there are still severe shortages in protective gear, even for the first line med staff (he’s been lying “there are enough masks” for a month mow)
    – testing is appallingly low, 6k altogether so far (if one trusts the official figures) eg. similar size NY city is doing 12k a week and increasing,
    – knee jerk re-organizations of hospital facilities have been initiated only now where
    – the professional association and the med workers trade unions are excluded
    – the gov instructions are lacking and contradicting, the information provided is deemed doctored.
    But the brazen Orban mafia didn’t fail to grab still more power and suppress expression and media and of immediately proceeded to issue several decree which have nothing to do with the crisis, but everything with their political goals (see Hungarian Spectrum for details and links).
    So, FASCISM it is and a totally corrupt one at that.

  5. Correction:
    The official number of tested as of today is 17 770 ! more than double from three days ago.
    But now the number of deceased disappeared !
    (I guess the propaganda ministry are figuring it out still).

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