The government has been given the power to declare a state of emergency in the case of an armed conflict, war, or humanitarian disaster in a neighboring country, with the tenth amendment to the constitution parliament adopted on Tuesday.
The legislation was passed with 136 votes for and 36 against.
Under the amended constitution, from November 1, a special legal order can be introduced in the case of a state of war, emergency, or danger. A state of emergency (officially called state of danger) can be declared if “acts of war actually take place”. An armed conflict includes all armed clashes including a situation of civil war, while a humanitarian disaster could be any situation arising from war or armed conflict, or from other reasons such as natural disasters causing a seriously difficult situation for masses of people.
According to the justification of the bill, a special legal order can only be introduced if developments in a neighboring country seriously impact Hungary in humanitarian or economic terms or if there is a real likelihood that it could happen. As the government said, the current amendment allows them “to declare a state of danger in the event of war, armed conflict or humanitarian disaster in a neighboring country, so that all necessary means are available to assist, support and accommodate people fleeing the situation, and to prevent the adverse economic effects of the situation and mitigate the consequences”.
Parliament also adopted changes to the law on disaster management and related legislation. Under the changes, the government could suspend some laws or deviate from their stipulations to ensure the security of residents, their assets, as well as the stability of the national economy in a state of danger declared due to war in a neighboring country.
Under the new legislation, the Constitutional Court, if requested, must review the government’s measures taken in a state of danger.
Why does this matter?
In a state of danger, the government can adopt decrees that suspend the application of certain laws. Normally, the government cannot do this, as laws are adopted by Parliament, and therefore in the hierarchy of legal sources, laws are on a higher level than government decrees. As the Hungarian Constitution clearly states: “A Government Decree shall not be contrary to any laws.” However, in a state of danger, the government may indeed issue regulations that would otherwise be in conflict with certain laws.
The Hungarian government first declared a state of danger in March 2020 via a government decree in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Many critics of the government slammed the legal situation created by the special legal order. According to them, this, in addition to the fact that governing Fidesz alone has a supermajority in the parliament, practically allowed the government to rule by decree.
The state of danger introduced as a result of the coronavirus epidemic will end on May 31, but the 10th constitutional amendment will provide an opportunity for the governing parties to reintroduce it due to the war.
Additionally, another special legal order remains in effect in Hungary. The so-called “state of crisis due to mass migration” introduced in 2016 and extended numerous times throughout the past years also grants several extraordinary legal measures to the government. (This is despite the fact that Hungary’s borders have largely been sealed to migrants since Europe’s 2015 migration crisis.) The amended constitution will therefore grant the government a wide room for legal maneuvering.
Featured image: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Zsolt Semjén, Deputy Prime Minister for National Policy, Church Affairs, and Nationalities vote during the plenary session of Parliament on May 24, 2022. Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI