Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has refused an invitation from EU lawmakers to debate emergency powers and the rule of law in his country, the state news agency MTI reports.
European Parliament President David Sassoli invited Orban to speak at the debate in Brussels on May 14, but MTI quoted the right-wing prime minister as replying in a letter that Hungary will be represented by Justice Minister Judit Varga.
In his invitation, Sassoli wrote on May 12 that only heads of state or government can attend such debates, which according to protocol cannot be held remotely.
"At present, the fight against the pandemic consumes all my energy and strength," Orban replied to Sassoli, according to MTI.
Hungary's parliament, where Orban's Fidesz party holds a comfortable majority, approved legislation on March 30 giving him sweeping new powers under -- and possibly beyond -- the country's state of emergency to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move triggered a wave of criticism from both the European Union and the United States.
Orban has insisted the powers are needed to tackle the spread of the pandemic.
Separately, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs branded the upcoming debate in Brussels a "witch-hunt, a show trial."
"It's leftists and liberals playing politics when the continent is facing one of the greatest health and economic crises we've seen in a century," Kovacs tweeted on May 13.
The European Parliament on April 17 adopted a statement saying Hungary's measures were "incompatible with European values."
The center-right European People's Party, the European Parliament’s biggest grouping, suspended Fidesz from its ranks in March 2019 over concerns over the rule of law in Hungary as well as attacks against the European Commission.
The suspension was extended indefinitely in February, even before the Hungarian lawmakers' move to grant Orban sweeping powers.
Hungary's emergency law also prompted "particular" concern from European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen last month.
While saying EU countries may need extraordinary measures to fight the pandemic, she added, "I am concerned that certain measures go too far -- and I'm particularly concerned with the situation in Hungary."