Von der Leyen Warns ‘Emergency Measures Must Be Limited’

The emergency measures imposed by the governments of some Member States must be limited and respect the values of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen said. Adding that governments cannot fight coronavirus at the expense of freedom of expression or the media.

The head of the EU commission appealed to member countries the day after the Hungarian Parliament passed a law allowing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government to rule by decree. According to von der Leyen, the Commission will closely monitor Member States’ measures.

“Democracy cannot work without free and independent media. Respect for freedom of expression and legal certainty are essential in these precarious times,” said a politician whose institution oversees the observance of the fundamental values laid down in EU treaties.

The government of Viktor Orban can, under the new law, manage the country using decrees in times of emergency without the need for parliamentary approval. According to critics, the fact that powers are not limited in time is particularly dangerous. The possibility of imprisoning journalists for up to five years for allegedly deliberately spreading false or alarming reports of coronavirus is also abusive.

According to Hungarian spokesman Zoltán Kovács, the law is “in line with the values of the European Union, the rule of law and freedom of the press.” The new measures are said to be aimed solely at combating coronavirus.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an NGO dedicated to protecting human rights, said it will act to counter the destruction of the rule of law due to the Emergency Act. “Parliament’s functioning as a legislative body representing citizens has virtually stopped,” the Hungarian Helsinki Committee said, according to DPA.

Other EU countries, including the Czech Republic, have also declared a state of emergency giving the government extraordinary powers in recent weeks. According to Von der Leyen, the EC respects that states are trying to react as quickly as possible to the evolving situation around the pandemic, but they should respect some principles.

“Any emergency measures must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate. They must not last indefinitely. Moreover, governments must make sure that such measures are subject to regular scrutiny.,” the commission president said.

Brussels has been conducting infringement proceedings against Hungary as well as Poland for a long time. Today, the Warsaw government further tightened restrictive measures introduced to combat coronavirus.