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(31 March 2020) - Today, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen warned that coronavirus emergency measures by EU countries must be “limited”, in a veiled reference to Hungary’s leader Viktor Orbán, who used the pandemic to take on sweeping powers.

Viktor Orban
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“Democracy cannot work without free and independent media,” von der Leyen said in a statement. Even though she did not explicitly name Hungary, her statement can nevertheless be seen as a rebuke to Orbán’s adoption of ‘rule by decree’. “Any emergency measures must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate. They must not last indefinitely,” von der Leyen said.

Hungary’s parliament endorsed a bill on Monday giving Orbán the sweeping new powers he says he needs to fight the new coronavirus pandemic. Critics at home and abroad have condemned the “anti-coronavirus defence law”, saying it gives Orbán unnecessary and unlimited power and is a means of cementing his position rather than battling the virus.

In Bulgaria, the government of Boyko Borissov, an admirer of Orbán, has proposed a controversial law akin to Hungary’s, mandating jail terms for those spreading fake news about infectious diseases. Following pressure by President Rumen Radev and a political outcry, the controversial texts were retracted. (EurActiv)

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