Hungarian Hub’s Conference on The European Union and the COVID-19 Crisis


On November 27, the ELI Hungarian Hub held its webinar on ‘The European Union and COVID-19 Crisis’.

The Co-Chair of the Hub, Professor Miklós Király (Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE)) welcomed the participants and expressed how pleased he was that it was possible, despite the current pandemic crisis, to hold the Conference online thanks to ELI and the ELTE University. He also expressed his concerns about the effects of the pandemic on the economy and society. He posed questions about the freedom of movement in the future, and about how a balance could be made between the lockdowns and the freedom of people. 

Lord John Thomas (ELI First Vice-President) held the first presentation of the webinar under the title ‘ELI Principles for the COVID-19 Crisis’. He elaborated on the issue of the nature and challenges of the principle of the rule of law, and he provided details about the Principles that ELI had adopted in respect to the COVID-19 crisis. He talked about how the pandemic has changed many fields of our lives, including the judiciary system. Some courts switched easily and quickly to hold online hearings, and in his opinion this practice will likely stay in the future in some jurisdictions. Regarding the ELI Principles, he added that the Principles were drafted in the hope of the crisis ending soon. After the crisis, according to Lord Thomas, there will be a new ‘normal’. 

The second speaker, Professor Éva Gellérné Lukács (Eötvös Loránd University), spoke about COVID-19 and the free movement of persons in the EU. She presented the consequences of the crisis on the free movement of the people in the single market. The nub of her analysis was whether this crisis could be compared to the crisis of 2008. She told the audience that the types of work that EU mobile workers usually do might be hit more by unemployment in the present crisis. The motivations behind the Brexit vote did not disappear, social security and its benefits remained a hot topic in the Member States. Hungary is typically a workforce sending country, however, it has a strong governmental interest in making the country more attractive in order for nationals to return. It is hoped that throughout the EU, free movement will be more valued after the end of the Coronavirus. It is, however, feared that Member States will focus more on upholding national labour protections than on endorsing free movement policies. 

The third lecture was delivered by Gábor Zupkó (Head of Representation of European Commission Hungary), focusing on the EU Coronavirus response. Gabor Zupkó introduced the audience to the divergent actions the EU has taken in order to alleviate the effects of the crisis and to protect the health of EU citizens. This pandemic launched again the evergreen question about what competences the EU has. The first goal of the Commission was to maintain the proper functioning of the internal market, including the issuance of patents in the healthcare field. The EU also provided research funds, and adopted a vaccination strategy. The Commission has concluded six contracts for the purchase of vaccines. Another main goal was the fight against disinformation. The EU has started working with several social media platforms in order to prevent the spread of false information. An important statement from the Commission is that the green transition remains a priority and that the pandemic did not change the EU’s environmental protecting plans. 

The last lecturer, Professor Antonio Estella (Carlos III University, Madrid), talked about the EU’s economic response to the COVID-19 crisis. He presented in detail the measures and plans adopted by the EU. The NextGenerationEU is one of the most important initiatives to stimulate the post-COVID recovery of the internal market. Another topic was the multiannual financial framework. Professor Estella considered the connection of the enforcement of the rule of law and the financial frameworks surprising. The EU has also taken very extraordinary measures by granting exceptions to its otherwise governing rules, for example, by suspending the EU’s state aid rules.