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Gov’t Bills to End Special Emergency Powers on June 20th, May Allow Gov’t to Rule by Decree in Future During a Public Health Crisis

Péter Cseresnyés 2020.05.27.

The government has submitted a bill to Parliament declaring the end of the state of emergency, which, if passed, is expected to end the coronavirus epidemic law and the extraordinary powers given to Viktor Orbán, on June 20th. However, another omnibus bill was also proposed that allows the government to order a public health crisis, allowing them to rule by decree without parliamentary authorization.

Gov’t proposes to end state of emergency

As the government has previously pledged, the bill to terminate the state of emergency (officially ‘state of danger’) raised in connection with the novel coronavirus outbreak was submitted to Parliament on Tuesday, shortly before midnight. This also means the proposal would lapse the harshly attacked epidemic law granting extraordinary powers to the government.

The epidemic response law has generated a great deal of criticism, as it not only enabled the government to rule by decree as long as the state of emergency was in place, but also doing this without a sunset clause or time limit. Some parts of the Hungarian opposition suspected Orbán would not return these extraordinary rights and accused the PM of further cementing his already “virtually limitless power.” Additionally to the domestic debate, the epidemic response law also garnered huge international uproar, with some press outlets and politicians talking about a newly founded dictatorship in Europe.

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Viktor Orbán announced in Belgrade on May 15th that he would give back the special powers at the end of May.  In his radio interview last Friday, Orbán said granting the emergency powers to the government “was one of the best decisions” since it allowed for timely action, without “having to fight the left-wing opposition,” thereby avoiding mass infections in Hungary.

The new bill would come into effect the day after its promulgation.

Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, who submitted the proposal, in the explanatory memorandum, wrote that the emergency law allowed the government to take quick and effective measures, but “thanks to the sacrifice and discipline of Hungarians, we have so far prevented the epidemic to take tragic tolls similar to other places.”

The explanatory memorandum also states that Parliament has been able to exercise its power of control unhindered throughout, and the measures taken by the government are “not unique in international comparison.”

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According to the text, against the emergency measures, “an unprecedented, coordinated political campaign and hysteria has taken place from the very beginning, within and outside the borders of our country.”

While these did not affect the success of controlling the epidemic, “all those who questioned the extraordinary measures and tried to undermine the legitimacy of the government’s decisions during the most trying times bear a historic responsibility,” the bill’s memorandum states.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Judit Varga on social media even revealed that the special legal order is expected to expire on June 20th, “much earlier than in many European countries.”

“In the second phase of defense, we need to focus on retaining jobs, creating new ones, and relaunching the economy,” she added.

Gov’t submits omnibus bill enabling them to rule by decree in case of future public health crisis

The other proposal submitted to Parliament was an omnibus bill, which, on the one hand maintains the regulations made during the state of emergency, and, as a new element, amends the Disaster Management Act enabling the government to declare a public health crisis and, under given circumstances, to rule by decree, hvg.hu reports.

According to the amendment, at the suggestion of the Chief Medical Officer, following a ministerial proposal, the government may declare a public health crisis.

Should the motion be accepted, the government can declare a state of crisis in case of an “international public health and epidemiological emergency,” or if a condition endangers people’s lives, or the functioning of healthcare.

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Then the Chief Medical Officer would be responsible to monitor the situation. If the conditions for the state of crisis are not met, they would initiate the revocation of the government decree, which the government would be obliged to do.

The decree ordering the public health crisis would remain in force for a maximum of six months, unless extended by the government. It can be extended if the relevant conditions remain and the decision has to only be reported to the Parliament’s Committee on Healthcare. This also means that the National Assembly has no say at all in the matter.

The draft lists in detail the subjects which may be restricted or prohibited in the event of a health crisis.

According to the proposal, the government may exercise its powers to the extent necessary and proportionate to the objective pursued, and may not impose curfews.

However, it also enables the government, in order to prevent the epidemic, and to address its consequences, by means of a decree, to suspend the application of certain Acts, derogate from the provisions of Acts and take other extraordinary measures.

Featured photo by Noémi Bruzák/MTI