European countries are introducing various types of regulations to fight the coronavirus epidemic. The solutions implemented in Hungary have attracted international public attention. The country has introduced strict penalties for such offences as violations of the rules of mandatory quarantine or the dissemination of false information that make maintaining safety more difficult. At the same time, the Hungarian authorities have applied a number of measures to mitigate the socio-economic effects of the epidemic. However, the introduction of Act XII has been unfavourably received by some politicians, including the former President of the European Council Donald Tusk. The Act is intended to be an excuse for the removal of Hungary’s governing Fidesz party from the European People’s Party. The Ordo Iuris Institute analysed the solutions implemented in Hungary.
The Hungarian authorities had reacted to the threat of the epidemic even before the first coronavirus case was discovered in the country. One of the first decisions was to organise sanitary checks at border crossings. Measures were also taken to prepare the health care system for the expected epidemic. A hotline and a website with information about possible risks were launched, hospitals and laboratories were inspected, and prisoners became involved in the production of protective measures.
The first case of coronavirus infection in Hungary was confirmed on 4 March 2020, and already on 11 March, the government decided to introduce a state of emergency, which is equivalent to the state of natural disaster provided for in the Polish Constitution. This solution involves equipping the Hungarian government with special powers, in particular, the power to issue decrees that are valid for 15 days. The government may extend the duration of the decrees with the approval of the National Assembly. In such a situation, the Hungarian Constitution indicates only that the decrees shall expire no later than at the moment of the end of the state of emergency.
The government decrees primarily introduced restrictions on movement within Hungary, banned gatherings and imposed an obligation to keep a distance from other people. Border controls have also been reintroduced. The authorities have restricted commercial and restaurant activities.
The government has also introduced a number of measures to help entrepreneurs who are at risk of losses due to the epidemic. The measures include the total or partial waiving of certain public contributions between March and June 2020. It is also possible to trade food products and other goods without the required notifications and registration, provided that a contract is concluded with a given business establishment. Similar facilitations apply to mail-order trade. Simultaneously, the government is to continue the payment of family income support benefits.
On 31 March, the National Assembly adopted Act XII which approves all the decrees previously issued by the government but does not extend this approval to future acts. It also contains a reservation that the National Assembly may withdraw its approval of the decrees at any time. They will then cease to be valid even before the end of the state of emergency.
The Act also introduced severe penalties for violations of quarantine rules, which can be punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. However, if another person dies as a result of this violation, the sentence may be as high as eight years’ imprisonment. The spread of disinformation which would make it more difficult to ensure the safety of citizens is also punishable. In the event of any states of emergency, the sentence may be as high as five years’ imprisonment.
‘It is not true that the Act removes the Hungarian National Assembly’s control over the government’s actions. First of all, it only approved previously issued decrees, while at the same time giving the Parliament the power to withdraw that approval. Secondly, the Act clearly obliges the government to report systematically to the National Assembly. If it is not possible for the government to meet, it obliges the representatives of the parliamentary groups to report the actions taken to combat the epidemic. The Act has also secured the functioning of the Hungarian Constitutional Court by allowing proceedings with the use of electronic communication. All elements of the “check and balance” have therefore been preserved’, explains attorney Bartosz Zalewski from Ordo Iuris.
The Act does not specify when the emergency will end. The Hungarian Constitution does not provide for a precise regulation in this respect either. This means that the situation may continue as long as there is a threat of an epidemic.
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