May 14, 2020 / 10:39 AM / 23 days ago

UPDATE 1-Hungary could end emergency powers in late June -PM aide

(Adds comment, more detail, Commissioner Jourova)

By Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST, May 14 (Reuters) - Hungary’s government could retract the emergency powers obtained to fight the coronavirus in late June, depending on the evolution of the pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday.

In March, Orban secured an open-ended right to rule by decree to fight the epidemic, which has drawn criticism from rights groups, several European Union member states and the European Commission. Orban said the special powers could be withdrawn by Parliament - where his Fidesz party holds a two-thirds majority - at any time.

Under the legislation, anybody deemed to be deliberately spreading false information that could upset people or hinder the fight against the novel coronavirus could face up to five years in jail.

“The government could give up its special emergency rights towards the end of June unless the situation (with the epidemic) changes,” Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said.

He also told an online press briefing the government was considering easing restrictions in Budapest from next week due to a decline in infections. Lockdown restrictions have already been mostly lifted in the countryside.

Speaking in the European Parliament, Vera Jourova, the commissioner responsible for upholding EU values and transparency, said earlier on Thursday that the EU was entering a new phase when certain measures taken to protect public health will be gradually relaxed.

“This new phase means that the general states of emergency with exceptional powers granted to governments should gradually be removed or replaced by more targeted and less intrusive measures,” Jourova said.

“The Commission will be very vigilant on how emergency measures which affect the rule of law, fundamental rights and democratic values are phased out in the member states ... This is even more important for Hungary given the lack of a clear time limit for the state of danger.” (Additional reporting by Anita Komuves, editing by Larry King)

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