Victor Orban rebuffs EP debate invitation

Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban has snubbed an invitation by the European Parliament speaker to debate emergency powers and the rule of law in Hungary, Budapest's MTI news agency reported on Wednesday. EP President David Sassoli invited Orban to speak at the debate in Brussels on Thursday but the nationalist premier said in a letter that Justice Minister Judit Varga will represent Hungary instead.

"At present, the fight against the epidemic consumes all my energy and strength," Orban told Sassoli, according to MTI. Only heads of state or government can attend such debates, which according to protocol cannot be held remotely, Sassoli had told Orban in Tuesday's invitation letter.

Emergency powers granted to Orban by the Hungarian parliament on 30 March enable him to rule by decree without a fixed time limit until his government decides the virus crisis is over. Orban insists the powers are needed to tackle the spread of the pandemic.

But many, including some of his allies in the European parliament's conservative EPP grouping, have accused him of a power grab too far, AFP recalls.

On Wednesday government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs branded the hearing scheduled for Thursday a "witch hunt, a show trial".  "It's leftists and liberals playing politics when the continent is facing one of the greatest health and economic crises we've seen in a century," Kovacs tweeted.

Hungary's emergency law also prompted "particular" concern from European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen last month.  While saying EU countries may need extraordinary measures to fight the pandemic, she added: "I am concerned that certain measures go too far and I'm particularly concerned with the situation in Hungary."

The European Parliament adopted on 17 April a statement saying Hungary's measures are "incompatible with European values".

MEPs called on the Commission to study whether Hungary had breached EU law, and urged progress with an Article 7 procedure launched against Budapest in 2018.  Sanctions under Article 7 of the EU treaty could result in Hungary losing voting rights.

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