15 Apr, 2020

Rule of law must prevail during times of crisis

Extraordinary times entail extraordinary measures, but governments must ensure that these measures respect the rule of law, fundamental rights and the common values of liberal democracies.

“This is the time to kill coronavirus virus – not the time to kill democracy”, said Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová.

Over the past weeks, we have seen how governments around the globe are using the COVID-19 pandemic to establish or consolidate their powers and undermine liberal democracies and the rule of law.

Thailand has adopted emergency bills that supress criticism. Iran has allowed the military forces to clear the streets. Kenyan authorities are using excessive force – including beating and using of gas – to enforce lockdown rule. And, China continues with its disinformation campaign to diminish the capacity of the EU to tackle this crisis.

Unfortunately, the wave of authoritarian measures has also hit Europe. Russia has adopted laws that punish with some time in prison those who violate the quarantine rules. The Polish Parliament – despite the electoral rules impeding any changes six months before the elections – adopted changes to the electoral code to allow postal voting. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán is now allowed to rule by decree without any time limit or democratic accountability.

Drastic measures are needed in these unprecedent times, but they must always be temporary, proportionate and necessary, and subject to constant control at all levels.

As Liberals, we believe that the role of the European Commission is necessary to ensure the respect of rule of law in the EU and welcome the initiative to take necessary action proposed by Vice-President Jourová and Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders. Under this initiative, the European Commission will monitor very closely the application of emergency measures adopted by all member states to secure they fit the EU standards.

“We need to strengthen the rule of law more than ever,” stated Commissioner Reynders at a CEPS Webinar on safeguarding the rule of law while he reminded that the European Commission is currently working on a report on the rule of law that will be published this autumn.

Democracy cannot be a collateral damage of the coronavirus crisis. On the opposite, in times of crisis democratic decision-making procedures are needed to ensure legitimacy.

European Liberals have always been guardians of liberal-democratic values and this pandemic is not an exception. We will continue monitoring measures and actions that might pose a threat to our core values of freedom and democracy. For this purpose, we have created the Corona Dictatorship Watchdog – an interactive map that presents an overview of those countries that are breaching the rule of law and fundamental values. You can access the map here.

Authoritarianism does not protect people’s health; dictatorships do not create jobs. Transparency, democratic debate and control do!

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