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EU warns members against excessive power after change in Hungary

EU warns members against excessive power after change in Hungary
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks to reporters during a visit with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 13, 2019. File Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo

April 1 (UPI) -- The European Union has warned member states about using coronavirus controls to curtail democracy, a day after Hungarian Parliament gave sweeping new powers to Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Lawmakers on Monday suspended elections and relaxed enforcement for certain laws in an effort to give Orban greater ability to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The law, which includes prison time for those convicted of spreading false information about the virus, is viewed a power grab by some of Orban's opponents.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen didn't single out Hungary in her warning Tuesday, but called on member nations to "uphold and defend" freedom and democracy.

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"It is of utmost importance that emergency measures are not at the expense of our fundamental principles and values as set out in the treaties," von der Leyen said in a statement. "Democracy cannot work without free and independent media. Respect for freedom of expression and legal certainty are essential in these uncertain times.

"Any emergency measures must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate. They must not last indefinitely. Moreover, governments must make sure that such measures are subject to regular scrutiny."

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The EU leader said the commission will closely monitor emergency measures taken by member states.

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"We all need to work together to master this crisis," she added. "On this path, we will uphold our European values and human rights. This is who we are, and this is what we stand for."

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Tuesday the nation agrees with von der Leyen and parliament's actions are in line with EU standards.

"That's why the Hungarian state of emergency and extraordinary measures are congruent with the treaties and Hungarian constitution and targeted exclusively at fighting the coronavirus," Kovacs said. "It upholds EU values, rule of law, press freedom."

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