Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused his political opponents and Hungary's allies alike of "spreading fake news" about the EU member's coronavirus law that allows his government to rule by decree for an unlimited period.
Hungary's parliament, where Orban's right-wing 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 EU politicians and the United States.
“In recent weeks, we have witnessed an unprecedented attack and disinformation campaign against Hungary,” Orban wrote in a letter sent on May 5 to the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the European Parliament’s biggest grouping.
“It’s the most cynical one I ever experienced because it deliberately disregarded that the government, which was targeted, was desperately fighting for saving human lives,” Orban wrote.
The EPP suspended Fidesz from its ranks in March 2019 over concerns over the rule of law backsliding in Hungary as well as attacks against the European Commission. The suspension was extended indefinitely in February, before the Hungarian lawmakers' move to grant Orban sweeping powers.
Orban argued in his letter that the parliament has been in session ever since the law was passed, adding that “the competence to terminate the state of danger (emergency) or any decree taken by the government was handed over to the parliament.”
However, rights groups say such an argument overlooks one critical point: While the parliament can annul the extra prerogatives handed over to the government, Hungary's constitution gives the government the power to lift the state of danger -- the Hungarian equivalent to a state of emergency, according to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a civil rights watchdog that analyzed the law.
Orban also lashed out at his critics, writing that “our formal political opponents, but more worryingly, some EPP politicians, too, have been actively involved in spreading fake news.”
Last month, several of Europe’s center-right political leaders sent a joint letter to Donald Tusk, the EPP president, calling for the Fidesz expulsion. The letter was signed by politicians from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, and Sweden.
Although it warned in a statement on March 31 against the use of the pandemic as an excuse to undercut democracy, the European Commission has so far refrained from directly criticizing Orban.
But members of the U.S. Congress were quick to blast Orban's move at the time.
Representative Eliot Engel (Democrat-New York), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senator Jim Risch (Republican-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on March 31 said it was particularly disturbing that a NATO ally and EU member would implement what Engel called a “blatant power grab” that allows Orban “to rule by decree like a dictator.”
Engel also added that it is "particularly egregious that...Orban attempts to capitalize on the suffering of his own citizens for personal gain."