Lockdowns are testing democracy, but there is no room for trade-offs

LIBE members warn that Covid-19 emergency constraints pose “risk of abuse of power”

Photo: EP Juan Fernando López Aguilar.

In a resolution, adopted by the EP Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) on Tuesday, MEPs zoomed in on the emergency measures, such as lockdowns and sanctions regimes, adopted by all 27 EU countries in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and their impact on democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights. They underlined that these constraints pose a “risk of abuse of power”.

Lawmakers asserted that the emergency actions should be proportionate, their duration limited and in line to the principle of necessity, as enshrined by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. They underlined as well that special care for vulnerable groups is necessary.

Member States have adopted a vast number of different emergency measures, at different times and with different impacts, as way of responding to the Covid-19 outbreak, the rapporteur Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar (S&D, ES), LIBE Chair, underscored. In his words, the piecemeal approach has produced an EU patchwork in unchartered territory. Whether it is the right to healthcare, the right to privacy and data protection, the right to equality before the law, non-discrimination or freedom of expression and information, there are few aspects of our daily lives that have not been affected, Lopez Aguilar explained.

Saying that the Committee insists all measures in response to the pandemic must be proportionate, necessary and only temporary in nature, the rapporteur noted that the message is that even in times of crisis, there is no room for trade-offs when it comes to democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law. We have to uphold our shared values and guarantee proper parliamentary and judicial scrutiny at all times, he commented. “Law always matters,” he also stated.

In the resolution, the Committee members urge national governments to consider terminating their “state of emergency” or at least to clearly define the delegation of powers to their executives. They also insist that appropriate parliamentary and judicial checks and balances are ensured.

MEPs recommend the Commission to evaluate the different measures that were in effect throughout the EU in the spring, the so-called “first wave”, and to also beef up the comments included in its first annual rule of law report. They point out that a permanent, effective monitoring mechanism is necessary.

Particularly when it comes to the right to family life. EU countries have to exercise utmost restraint, and the Commission should strictly examine how the Schengen rules are exercised. National governments should safeguard the right to education by ensuring that classes continue and students have access to them.

According to MEPs, independent journalism and media pluralism should be supported, including through transparent allocation of funds to media, and journalists' working conditions improved, as the media are on the front line in tackling the “fake news”.

The lawmakers stress that disinformation threatens citizens' health and their trust in public institutions, and has also been used as a pretext to restrict freedom of expression.

The LIBE members voiced criticism against undue restrictions to the freedom of assembly and changes in legislation while citizens are unable to protest and say that the need to guarantee free and fair elections becomes even more important.

The full House will vote on the resolution at the upcoming plenary session, scheduled for 11-13 November.

Similar articles