Using the Ukraine war as an excuse, on May 25, Hungary’s ruling party pushed through parliament a constitutional amendment allowing the government to declare a “state of danger” in the event of armed conflict or humanitarian disaster in a neighboring country. Immediately, recently-reelected Prime Minister Viktor Orban used those powers to declare a state of danger, citing the war in Ukraine. Adoption of the constitutional amendment took place without public consultation.
The state of danger gives Orban sweeping powers to rule by decree, sidestep parliamentary debate, and suspend laws at short notice with very limited to no judicial oversight. It’s not the first time Orban has adopted emergency powers – a similar declaration was made during the Covid-19 pandemic when the government used its extraordinary powers to pass legislation unrelated to the pandemic – restricting human rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, and activities by civil society organizations. It is likely the government will again misuse its powers under the new state of danger to further consolidate control.
This latest attack on the rule of law should be added to the long list of antidemocratic measures Orban has taken in the past 12 years in office, including taking over public institutions, undermining the independence of the judiciary, stifling the press, and demonizing and criminalizing civil society organizations with the aim of strengthening his power. While butting heads with European Union institutions for its poor rule of law record, Orban continues to rule unchecked and trample the rights of Hungarians at will.
Last month, ministers from EU member states held a fourth hearing with the Hungarian government to discuss its continuing rule of law failures. The hearing was part of the article 7 process triggered in 2018 by a vote in the European Parliament. Ministers raised a range of issues including concerns about the planned constitutional amendment, yet two days later the amendment was approved.
To break this stalemate the EU and member states need to take faster and more resolute action to hold Orban’s government to account for misuse of power, past, present, and future. This should include setting timebound recommendations under the article 7 process, insisting on execution of European Court of Justice judgments, and firm use of the EU’s new rule of law conditionality mechanism.