EU warns Hungary not to discriminate against EU citizens during ongoing health crisis

The move comes after Hungary imposed travel restrictions on foreigners on Tuesday.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

02 Sep 2020

At a time when the EU is trying to streamline travel restrictions Hungary has been attacked for introducing a near blanket travel ban.

The country has also been criticised for not informing the EU about its decision.

The Commission responded immediately by saying that it will write to the Hungarian government and that it does not support such “discriminatory” measures.

In the letter, EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders will tell Hungary there should be “no discrimination between EU citizens” on Coronavirus restrictions.

At a Commission press briefing on Tuesday, a spokesman said, “There are clear rules on free movement in every Member State which each has to follow.”

Hungary, in closing its borders to non-residents, becomes the first Schengen country to reintroduce its strict measures amid the Coronavirus outbreak.

It decided unilaterally to shut down its borders to all foreigners and to reintroduce travel restrictions in a bid to halt Coronavirus infections. Hungarian citizens returning from abroad will have to self-quarantine for two weeks.

“There is the need to replace blanket restrictions to free movement by more targeted measures which are limited in time or in geographical scope, meaning, for example, that you apply restrictions to visitors from specific areas only” Commission spokesman

As of last Friday, Hungary had reported 5,046 coronavirus cases, with 609 deaths.

The move comes as several European countries implement stricter COVID-19 rules.

As a response, the Commission says it will now push for increased coordination by Member States. A spokesman said, “It is clear that this is needed.”

“The letter being sent to Hungary regards discrimination on the grounds of nationality. It is not possible to discriminate against people on this basis. That is why this letter has been written.”

The spokesman said the Commission also planned to table a proposal for a Council recommendation on the issue in the next few days.

“We have long been striving and pushing for better coordination on this issue by Member States. We have been doing this for weeks and even months. We will now step up our efforts on better coordination.”

“Since the start of this crisis in March the Commission has called for stronger coordination, whether via guidelines or on external borders. This is a constant stream of work for us.”

“There is the need to replace blanket restrictions to free movement by more targeted measures which are limited in time or in geographical scope, meaning, for example, that you apply restrictions to visitors from specific areas only.”

The Hungarian government defended its position saying that Hungary was a green zone while the rest of Europe was red.

In July, Hungary opened a humanitarian corridor to help the movement of travellers who are subject to restrictions imposed by many countries, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Hungary’s authorities, these will continue to be used.

Dutch MEP Sophie in' t Veld told Euronews, “Maybe the border closure is just another provocation of the EU. Maybe Mr Orban should consider if he wants to be a member of the EU. If you are a member of a team, you play by the rules.”

Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher Lydia Gall said on social media that the border closure was to deflect the fact that no public health strategy was in place to battle the novel Coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian government has once again extended the ‘State of Crisis due to Mass Migration’, which now will be in effect until March 7, 2021.

The State of Crisis was first declared in March 2016 and has been upheld ever since, citing pressure on Hungary’s southern borders from mass migration and the threat of terrorism despite declining numbers of migrants arriving at the border.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights watchdog, called the prolongation of the State of Crisis in the past a way to “humiliate” refugees and “deprive them of their rights.”

Elsewhere, Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s foreign minister, has remained defiant amid calls for his resignation after he was photographed vacationing on a luxury yacht in the Adriatic Sea.

Szijjártó, after an initial silence on the matter, said family vacations were part of his private life, declining to answer how he was able to pay for the trip.

A Hungarian investigative site photographed the foreign minister on August 16 on a yacht owned by László Szíjj, a pro-government businessman. On the same day the photographs were taken, pictures were posted on Szijjártó’s Facebook page purporting to show him working in an office with captions indicating that he was conducting diplomacy on the situation in Belarus.

Hungary’s anti-corruption rules prohibit officials from accepting gifts that exceed the value of their monthly parliamentary salary. Media reports said the yacht’s weekly rental price was estimated at around €170,000, 20 times Szijjártó’s reported monthly income.

The revelations came weeks after Prime Minister Orban urged Hungarians to forego vacationing abroad and instead opt for a domestic summer holiday. Orban himself has reportedly been spotted on a sailing yacht in the Adriatic Sea earlier this year.

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