Despite criticism from the liberal media and even some top politicians calling for Hungary to removed from the European Union over its emergency coronavirus law, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has outlined acceptable use of emergency powers across Europe in its 25-page document that meet general legal principles and the rule of law, all of which Hungary are in compliance with.
The Venice Commission document confirms Hungary’s oft-stated view that the country’s emergency rule introduced during the coronavirus pandemic were narrowly tailored to combat the crisis.
Since the Hungarian Parliament approved the government’s request to grant it broader powers to handle the coronavirus pandemic in March, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government has been accused of going against the rule of law and moving towards autocracy, mainly by groups of liberal MEPs in the European Parliament and Donald Tusk, President of the European People’s Party (EPP). Liberal media outlets also went on the attack, falsely claiming that parliament had been dissolved, that Hungary was now a “dictatorship“, and that Orbán would retain his power “indefinitely“.
In late April, European Commission legal experts concluded that Hungary did not violate rule of law or any European guidelines with its emergency powers law. European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová also admitted on Czech public television that, “So far, Hungary has not adopted any such decree that would contradict European regulations.”
The Venice Commission is an advisory body of the Council of Europe created in 1990, composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law whose name comes from its regular meeting place in Venice, Italy.
The document, compiled by five commission academics from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece and Sweden, points out in its introduction that “identifying best practices in this area is not simple: the current experience shows that even states with very similar constitutional models, such as Sweden and Finland, can have quite different ways of dealing with emergencies. It seems evident that history and cultural factors play an important role in this context.”
While the document does not reference the Hungarians case directly, only mentioning the country in enumerations of several countries which have constitutional systems of one kind or another, it does come to the conclusion that under ideal conditions the legislative and executive branch (i.e. the government and the national assembly of elected representatives) work in harmony and interaction during situations of special rule of law, which is exactly what happened in Hungary.
The commission’s report also pointed out that any special rule should be introduced only temporarily, which is also the case in Hungary, where the government submitted last week a proposal to parliament handing back its extraordinary powers, which is currently being debated in plenary sessions.
“The fact that the Venice Commission is maintaining its distance from the political implications of the pandemic defense, it creates the possibility that in a scrutiny of the rule of law cultural and historical specifics also become a criterion for evaluation,” Gergely Dobozi writes on conservative Hungarian portal Mandiner.
Title image: Meeting of the Venice Commission. (source: venice.coe.int)