From Eurocrisis to Coronacrisis, the EU and Hungary fracture over national pandemic responses and autocratic civil-liberties.
Former European Commission chief Jacques Delors said on March 28 that a lack of European solidarity, particularly with respect to the EU and Hungary over the coronavirus crisis, presented “a mortal danger” to the bloc.
As reported by France 24, Delors said coronavirus threatens the EU’s existence as gravely as Grexit or Brexit:
The European Union has faced and survived a series of existential threats over the years but the coronavirus epidemic has exposed old wounds that could yet prove fatal.
The threat arises, according to the Financial Times, because the EU lacks total control over public health issues where EU law permits more power to national governments.
The latest division between the EU and Hungary opened when Hungary moved independently to seize autocratic control over the coronacrisis within its borders. The power grab came via a bill that empowers Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to imprison people for spreading false information about coronavirus.
Opponents see the bill as having the potential to censor journalism and claim it is a threat to ‘democracy and fundamental rights.’
The International Federation for Human Rights argued on April 4 that the “EU Must React Swiftly to Latest Blow to Democracy Amidst Pandemic:”
FIDH is appalled by the recent adoption by the Hungarian government of an emergency law allegedly aimed at … a better response to the health crisis, but which seriously threatens the fundamental tenets of democracy, in a country where these are already weakened by a decade-long attack at the hands of the ruling party
The FIDH fears Hungary,
will misuse the crisis to consolidate anti-democratic rule in the country.
Many European officials expressed concerns that the coronacrisis will be used by Hungary as an excuse to grab more autocratic power at the expense of democracy as the Hungarian parliament gave “unprecedented and open-ended powers to the executive to rule by decree.”
Leaders all over the world have responded to the virus by declaring states of emergency over their populations to which most democratic countries are completely unaccustomed, including many European nations.
Even in the US, some cities, counties and states have threatened to arrest people who don’t obey restrictions against meeting in public, the constitutional “right of assembly” not withstanding.
In that context of national responses, the Hungarian government sees a double standard in Europe’s response, according to the official government communication About Hungary:
Hungarian State Secretary, Zoltán Kovács, lambasted the claim as a “witch hunt and coordinated smear campaign” against the Hungarian people. Kovács said that whenever Hungary had … tailored its laws to its own needs, “its domestic and international critics were always quick to react.”
Kovács referred to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s concerns over Hungary’s emergency measures as “a typical example of the political double standards.”
On Monday, the prime minister exercised his new powers to decree that Hungary will break with EU mandated budget constraints by nearly tripling its deficit. Hungary is expanding its deficit, as are many nations, to provide fiscal stimulus to carry jobs and businesses through the new global recession.
Since at least 2015, when Orbán announced plans to fence off part of Hungary from Europe to stop rampant immigration, articles have asked if a Hexit is going to happen. Until differences over how to handle the coronavirus hit, the primary fault line was immigration.
In October, 2016, Orbán held a referendum to let Hungarian citizens decide whether,
to say no to mandatory resettlement and to say no to the immigration policy of Brussels.
Comparisons to the Brexit referendum were inevitable as European authority was being challenged at a populist level, though an exit was not expressly on the table.
The referendum won a majority vote but failed to get the mandatory 50% voter turnout to pass.
In 2018, an editorial in the The Guardian claimed,
Hungary is making a mockery of ‘EU values’. It’s time to kick it out … for flouting basic democratic norms.
The move apart is not just a wish by some on Hungary’s side, but also by many Europeans. One European Twitter user, for example, suggests that #Hexit will become historic fact now that the EU has a dictatorship within its borders, while another comments,
Perhaps the larger question is … will COVID-19 hollow out democratic values everywhere?