EU Parliament denies Hungarian request to speak at debate on Orbán’s corona law
Parliament President David Sassoli says justice minister can't attend, but the prime minister can.
The European Parliament has refused a request from the Hungarian foreign minister to speak at a debate on her country’s controversial coronavirus law, according to letters seen by POLITICO.
The Parliament will on Wednesday hold a discussion involving MEPs, the European Commission and EU countries on legislation that allows the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree without a set time limit. The rules were brought in because of the coronavirus pandemic, but critics say emergency measures to address the crisis should be temporary and time-limited to allow for checks and balances.
On Monday, Judit Varga, Hungary’s justice minister and a former adviser at the European Parliament, wrote to Parliament President David Sassoli asking if she could address the session to defend her country.
Lorenzo Mannelli, Sassoli’s chief of staff, responded on Tuesday by writing to Tibor Stelbaczky, Hungary’s EU ambassador, saying that any “intervention” from a member country could only take place at “the level of heads of state and government.” He added that “no remote participation” would be possible at the session, “despite exceptional circumstances.”
The Parliament has held two mini-plenary sessions since the start of the outbreak, with only a few MEPs showing up to deliver speeches while the majority of others followed along online. On Wednesday, the Parliament will stick to the same format, with e-voting and no online speeches, a Parliament spokesperson told POLITICO.
Varga wrote back to Sassoli on Tuesday, blaming him for sticking to procedures rather than abiding by “the most fundamental element of the principle of fair treatment.” The Council and Commission, she said, “usually participate in plenary discussion at a level inferior to the level of presidents.”
She also criticized the institution for not letting her participate remotely.
“Not only does the Parliament decide to hold such a debate in these exceptional times, when all our energy should be focused on tackling the pandemic, but it refuses to ensure fair representation, which however is fundamental in any democratic debate,” Varga wrote.
But Sassoli refused to budge. In a letter to Orbán on Tuesday, seen by POLITICO, the Italian said while he considered it “positive” that the Hungarian government gives its side of the story, only Orbán himself would be allowed to take part. Sassoli asked the Hungarian leader if he intended to turn up in Brussels for the event. At the time of publication, no response had been received.