Estonia joins EU countries 'deeply concerned' for rule of law ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) and Peter Szijjarto in Budapest. Nov. 18, 2019.
Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) and Peter Szijjarto in Budapest. Nov. 18, 2019. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Estonia, together with the other Baltic states, joined the appeal of the 13 oldest member states of the European Union on Wednesday for the protection of democracy and the rule of law, which is seen as an indirect criticism of the recent developments in Hungary. Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) did not, however, consider the appeal successful as the 13 member states did not offer new member states the chance to participate.

The statement follows Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who controls two-thirds of the country's parliament, being given the right to rule the country indefinitely on Monday by decree without a set time limit. 

The new rules can only be lifted with another two-thirds vote of the parliament and a presidential signature. Critics say that emergency measures to address the coronavirus crisis should be temporary and time-limited to allow for checks and balances.

It is no longer possible to hold local elections under the new law, and the Fidesz-led government of the Orban party has the power to stop enforcing certain laws. In addition, Hungarian journalists can face up to five years in prison for disseminating false information.

Although Hungary is not explicitly mentioned in the States' address, it is undoubtedly linked to the special arrangements established there, Politico reports.

The introduction of such measures are unprecedented in Hungary since the end of communist rule 30 years ago. 

Of the Eastern European countries, Latvia was the first to join the address on Thursday afternoon, followed by Lithuania and Estonia.

Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu said, however, that the 13 oldest member states of the European Union that initiated the appeal did not offer new member states the chance to participate.

"This wasn't a successful statement if only states that became EU members before 2004 were involved. If this came out, Estonia obviously considered it reasonable to join the appeal. Yesterday (on Wednesday -ed.), Estonia wasn't aware of this appeal. After we became aware of it, we joined it," the foreign minister told ERR.

"What is more, I consider it unreasonable to make these statements by a group of states. I think that every member state of EU should join the appeal," Reinsalu said and added that he has asked Estonian diplomats to work towards EU foreign ministers making a joint statement regarding this at the External Relations Council.

"This is a natural request, as the rule of law must be followed even more attentively during extraordinary times. But the statement made by those 13 countries is a general appeal, not concerning any single state. All countries must do that, whether it concerns Hungary, Germany, Poland, Estonia or Finland," Reinsalu said. "It is essential we act according to the rule of law in crisis situations."

In March, Reinsalu attended the opening of Hungary's new embassy in Tallinn and said the two countries were "enhancing cooperation". Reinsalu also defended the two countries loosening cooperation in November.

The full joint statement can be found here and is printed below:

"In this unprecedented situation, it is legitimate that Member States adopt extraordinary measures to protect their citizens and overcome the crisis. We are however deeply concerned about the risk of violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights arising from the adoption of certain emergency measures.

"Emergency measures should be limited to what is strictly necessary, should be proportionate and temporary in nature, subject to regular scrutiny, and respect the aforementioned principles and international law obligations. They should not restrict the freedom of expression or the freedom of the press.

"We need to jointly overcome this crisis and to jointly uphold our European principles and values on this path. We therefore support the European Commission initiative to monitor the emergency measures and their application to ensure the fundamental values of the Union are upheld, and invite the General Affairs Council to take up the matter when appropriate."

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Editor: Helen Wright

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