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Hungary’s law which enhances government powers to tackle the novel coronavirus epidemic and parliament’s legislative activities are fully in line with the country’s constitution and do not violate any European norms, Zsolt Németh, the head of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said on Friday.

Németh responded in a letter to Rik Daems, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), who earlier this week warned against the violation of democratic norms when responding to the coronavirus epidemic at a national level and making those measures permanent. In his statement, Daems criticised the measures implemented by Hungary as “grossly disproportionate”.

Németh said in his letter that both he and Speaker of Parliament László Kövér had earlier briefed the head of the assembly on Hungary’s response measures and the state of democracy in the country.

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He insisted that the epidemic response law and parliament’s activities were “fully in line” with Hungary’s constitution and consistent with European norms, “as pointed out by Vera Jourova, the European Commission’s vice-president in charge of transparency and values”.

Further, the Hungarian government has joined the ranks of EU member states that say response measures to the epidemic should be temporary and must respect the principle of the rule of law, he added.

Németh said the government had been certain that the letter about the functions of parliament, the EU commissioner’s statement and Hungary’s commitment to making the special measures temporary had “clearly indicated” the country’s dedication to democratic principles.

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Németh added that he was “surprised” to see that Daems had singled out Hungary in his statement as being “the only European cabinet” to have implemented measures which he considered “grossly disproportionate”.

He said special measures implemented by the governments of Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia also did not have time limits. In addition, Malta and Croatia have not even scheduled regular reviews for the status of their regulations, Németh argued.

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Meanwhile, the Italian, Slovak, Estonian and Slovenian governments have the power to extend their states of emergency without approval from parliament, he said. Romania, Bulgaria and Poland have introduced stricter measures than Hungary, Németh said, adding that certain countries had even amended their penal codes. Yet Hungary is not calling these measures “disproportionate”, Németh said, arguing that such a conclusion could not be reached without an extensive analysis of the regulations introduced by those countries.

Németh asked Daems to refrain from expressing opinions “that are not backed up by an in-depth and detailed analysis” in the future and to “return to the honest and open dialogue” expected from the bodies of the Council of Europe.

Featured photo by Balázs Mohai/MTI