As the coronavirus outbreak continues to ravage Europe and the world, countries have adopted a range of measures to contain the situation. While in times of a war or an emergency exceptional measures are needed, the values of liberal democracies must still be preserved and treated with care. However, during this ongoing crisis, some restrictions to civil liberties and attempts to undermine the rule of law have become a serious reason for concern.
While a global health crisis would typically bring world leaders and countries together to join forces and promote cooperation and solidarity, the coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated the opportunism of some political leaders to use this exceptional situation to harden authoritarian systems and erode liberal democracies.
In the United States, President Donald Trump is using the coronavirus outbreak to extend his xenophobic discourse. In Brazil, companies have been allowed to not pay their workers during times of crisis, which severely undermines civil rights. Iran is deploying security forces to clear the streets and China has started disinformation campaigns and is covering up the real number of coronavirus cases. In Russia, targeted disinformation campaigns are creating confusion, occupying the information space with lies and building distrust in European and international institutions and experts.
And things are also happening much closer to home: Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has been using the coronavirus outbreak to weaken institutions and expand his executive powers. On 23 March, the Hungarian Parliament debated and voted against the Authorisation Act that would prolong the state of emergency in Hungary due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which would make it impossible to challenge Orbán until further notice. This Act would give him the right to decide when and how the Parliament reconvenes, when elections are to be held and would completely deprive Hungary from any parliamentary or societal control over the government. On top of this, Hungarian authorities have discovered tracks of disinformation campaigns covering up information about new cases of coronavirus. While the Act wasn’t voted for on Monday, the Parliament can still pass it next week, as Orbán’s party Fidesz holds a two-thirds majority.
As liberals, we need to defend democracy and stand up against any action that undermines democratic values, and for this reason, ahead of the vote on the Authorisation Act, we launched a petition together with our Hungarian member party Momentum to stand up against Orbán’s corona dictatorship.
While an emergency requires an emergency response – including more border controls, less data protection and new emergency decrees – authoritarian and coercive measures can’t be the answer. Europe should not go down the path of China and Russia and follow their examples during a crisis.
Corrupt leaders always find new emergencies, and what was first implemented as a temporary measure quickly becomes a permanent one. For this reason, Europe’s liberals will be on guard to ensure that no emergency rule undermines liberal-democratic values.
Even during World Wars parliamentary democracy wasn’t suspended in countries as UK & USA. During #Coronavid19 EU should take that example: if you respect your people, respect their parliamentarians! Hungarian MPs shld vote against the Authorisation Act! https://t.co/6uzXgFKlhG— Hans van Baalen (@hansvanbaalen) March 23, 2020