Viktor Orbán has declared a state of emergency, giving his government rights to rule by decree in response to an “economic crisis” caused by war in neighbouring Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.
Hungary’s prime minister will set out measures to be adopted on Wednesday, after parliament — which is dominated by Orbán’s Fidesz party following his sweeping victory in last month’s election — approved an amendment to the constitution on Tuesday.
“We see the war and the sanctions from Brussels have led to a huge economic upheaval and drastic inflation,” Orbán said in a video posted on Facebook. “The world faces an economic crisis. Hungary must stay out of this war . . . we need manoeuvring room and freedom to act.”
Hungary has opposed sanctions against Russia over its war against Ukraine, saying that the measures penalise Europe more than they debilitate President Vladimir Putin. Orbán has so far refused to sign off on EU plans for an embargo on importing Russian oil, saying that Hungary’s economy depends on supplies from Moscow.
Orbán introduced similar emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic, when critics in Hungary and abroad said they feared a dramatic erosion of democratic rights and civil liberties, which Orbán has challenged during his 12 years in power.
However, the government largely conducted business as before, using its comfortable majority in parliament.
Emese Pásztor, director of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union’s (TASZ) Political Freedoms Project, said the change announced on Tuesday meant that extraordinary legislation was becoming the “new normal”, as the government again deviated from normal legislative constraints.
“The government adjusts the rules to its wishes once again,” she wrote in a TASZ blog. “The new becomes the norm, which endangers our fundamental rights as it further dilutes the legislative powers of parliament.”
Orbán has been at loggerheads with the EU for the majority of his 12 years in power, most recently fighting for the release of post-pandemic recovery funds, which Brussels has withheld because of corruption and transparency concerns.
A separate procedure over Hungary’s rule of law record has led to a separate process that could ultimately lead to the suspension of the bloc’s structural funds and even Hungary’s voting rights.
Orbán’s stance towards Russia has alienated Poland, a close ally in the EU in recent years, where the ruling party’s leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has been critical of Hungary’s refusal to make a clean break with Moscow.
Orbán has stuck by Russian oil imports and accommodated Moscow’s demands to pay for natural gas shipments in the way that Russian energy giant Gazprom demands. Budapest also plans to speed up a Russian-backed €12.5bn nuclear power plant expansion.