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European Union: open letter from MEPs and civil society on possible threats to the rule of law

On April 15, 2020, in an open letter addressed to the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, eighty members of the European Parliament and representatives of several civil society groups have written down their concerns about the impact that the pandemic emergency due to COVID-19 may have within the European Union.

The letter highlights how much, despite the fact that Europe is facing an unprecedented emergency situation, cooperation between European institutions and member states is needed to defend any attack on the rule of law. Indeed, it is stressed that this crisis must in no way guarantee a space in which anti-democratic activities can find a foundation, where exceptional measures adopted by the various governments must be legitimate and proportional and implemented in a period temporarily limited to the emergency.

In the letter in question, there is also a harsh criticism about the Hungarian situation due the recente decree approved in Parliament on March 30, 2020 which recognizes new powers for the Prime Minister Orbán, allowing him to govern for an unlimited period of time. Moreover, an artincle from the same act states that anyone who disseminates false or distorted information that interferes with the "effective protection" of the population or creates "alarm and agitation" can be subject to a sentence of up to five years of prison. As the letter underlines, this is a move that could further undermine the rule of law in Hungary attacking not only the freedom of the press but further eroding the freedom of speech and those last elements left to oppose the attempts to suffocate the democratic system of the country by Orbán.

In the letter, three requests are made to the two European institutions:

  • strengthen controls on the management of European funds and intensify existing measures that prevent the creation of illiberal systems within the EU;
  • condem the abuses of the Hungarian government to democratic values by exploiting the crisis period due to COVID-19;
  • take swift and decisive action to address these threats to the rule of law disguised as "justified" actions due to the emergency.