Morning Brief

Hungary’s Orban Given Power to Rule By Decree With No End Date

Citing the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic, Hungary’s prime minister has been given powers that could prove difficult to undo.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (center) walks near other representatives during a vote about the government's bill on the protection against the new coronavirus COVID-19 at the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary on March 30, 2020.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (center) walks near other representatives during a vote about the government's bill on the protection against the new coronavirus COVID-19 at the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary on March 30, 2020.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gains extraordinary powers and faces calls for expulsion from the EU, Spain surpasses China’s coronavirus case total, and Saudi airstrikes hit Yemen.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Orban Gains Power to Rule By Decree With No End Date

Citing the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic, Hungary’s parliament has approved a bill to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree, effectively circumventing democratic institutions in a European Union member state. Notably, no elections can take place while the measures are in effect and the bill does not include an end date. Under Orban, Hungary has extended emergency measures before: It still operates under a state of emergency declared in 2015 at the onset of Europe’s refugee crisis.

The bill includes harsh penalties of up to five years in prison for spreading anything the government deems “fake news,” leading to fears over press freedom.

Once the result of the vote was clear, human rights activists across the world condemned the move. David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary director, said the move gives Orban’s government “carte blanche to restrict human rights.”

Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi went further, and called for Hungary’s removal from the European Union, “After what Orban has done today, the European Union must act and make him change his mind. Or, simply, expel Hungary from the Union,” he wrote on Twitter.

Coronavirus spreads autocracy. Coronavirus panic has led to the curtailment of civil liberties in open societies worldwide, as the freedom to assemble and to travel is reduced to stop the virus spreading. In Foreign Policy, Florian Bieber writes that although the coronavirus is temporary, the society it creates could be permanent, “The pandemic may well lead to a serious decline in democracy around the world. It is crucial that liberal democracies show self-restraint and vigilance.”

And in today’s episode of the Foreign Policy podcast Don’t Touch Your Face, Amy Mackinnon and James Palmer investigate whether the pandemic could cause strongmen in Eastern Europe to double down on authoritarianism.

What We’re Following Today

Spain passes China. Spain has joined the United States and Italy as one of the few nations to surpass China’s coronavirus case total. Spain reported 85,195 cases on Monday as more than 6,000 new infections were recorded. Foreign Policy is tracking the pandemic with an interactive map, updated daily.

Yemen airstrikes. Saudi coalition forces bombed the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Monday as tensions rose for the first time in three months, following the interception of two Houthi-launched ballistic missiles over Riyadh on Saturday. The strikes hit the presidential palace compound, a military school, and an air base. A Houthi-aligned news outlet reported 70 horses were killed in the strike on the military school; no other deaths have been reported. The Saudi coalition said that Monday’s strikes were aimed at “legitimate military targets including Houthi ballistic batteries which threaten civilian lives.”

Trump dilutes auto emission standards. The Trump administration is set to announce changes to car mileage standards today that will effectively dilute the standards set during Barack Obama’s presidency and delay any manufacturer shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles. “When finalized, the rule will benefit our economy, will improve the U.S. fleet’s fuel economy, will make vehicles more affordable, and will save lives by increasing the safety of new vehicles,” EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said on Monday. The United States is the world’s sixth-largest car producer and in 2017 transport accounted for 28.9 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Keep an Eye On

Indian police fire teargas at workers. Indian authorities detained 93 textile workers for violating lockdown orders after around 500 of them had to be dispersed by police firing tear gas. The confrontation began after police informed the workers that they would not be able to travel home as bus and train lines had been suspended. The nationwide lockdown has led to a humanitarian crisis in India as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are left without jobs, and miles from their hometowns. In Foreign Policy, Rana Ayyub reports on how India’s lockdown will hurt the country’s poorest.

Cummings self-isolates. Dominic Cummings, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior advisor, is self-isolating after exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, according to a government spokesperson. Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Friday and is self isolating in 10 Downing Street. As the pandemic unfolds, Foreign Policy is keeping a running list of world leaders who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Taliban launches deadly attack. In a series of attacks across Afghanistan on Sunday night, the Taliban killed at least 27 Afghan service members, Afghan government officials confirmed on Monday. Although no cease-fire has been called, the Taliban and Afghan government are due to sit down for peace talks following the U.S.-Taliban deal on February 29. A long-awaited prisoner swap between the Taliban and the Afghan government, due to take place today, will now be delayed.

Odds and Ends

According to the Associated Press, German Big Brother contestants were not the last to learn of the coronavirus pandemic—submarine crews may be the luckiest ones. Retired Adm. Dominique Salles, who commanded the French ballistic submarine squadron said that in order to maintain a focus on the mission, news from the outside world, including deaths of family members, is often kept from the rank and file on board the submarine. That means crew members coming off a 60 or 70 day mission could be in for a rude awakening. “No matter how serious an event is, there is nothing a submariner can do about it. And since he cannot do anything, better that he know nothing,” Salles said.

An astrophysicist in Australia had to endure a brief hospital stay after a homemade invention went badly wrong. Daniel Reardon was attempting to create a device that would deter users from touching their faces—a key directive in preventing coronavirus—when magnets from the device lodged in his nose. An attempt to remove the magnets with pliers proved fruitless when the tool was itself drawn to the magnets. Eventually Reardon sought professional attention, “My partner took me to the hospital that she works in because she wanted all her colleagues to laugh at me. The doctors thought it was quite funny, making comments like ‘This is an injury due to self-isolation and boredom,’” Reardon told The Guardian.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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