Europe's rule-of-law emergency
All humanity is facing an imminent threat – an ‘invisible enemy’ – COVID19 that has been ravaging, uncontrollably on a global scale, without making any distinction between age, sex or race. Humanity is been called to frontlines once again, in a full-on attempt to protect the health of thousands of people.
This emergency is requiring measures of crisis by the States in order to secure the health of their citizens. Governments are called to protect the people, however a fine balance must be struck between State-power and the fundamental freedoms of citizens earned with so many sacrifices.
The rule of law at such difficult times should be upheld to the highest standards, but it appears some EU member states abuse this opportunity to undermine the principles and institutions encompassing the rule of law. With Mr. Viktor Orbán - the Prime Minister of Hungary being the first among them to do so. Regimes such as the recently issued Hungarian, appear to have found the perfect opportunity to pass legislation that undermines the very foundations of a democratic nation. With a draft, pending approval, the Hungarian president is close in obtaining unlimited executive power for an unlimited period of time. Mr. Orban is still enjoying 2/3 majority in the country’s parliament, facing little opposition. As a result, such abuse can stretch far beyond the Coronavirus outbreak, and surpass timeframes whereby people are willing to surrender freedoms for State-wide wellbeing.
Under this new regime, the State of emergency could remain indefinitely with the abuse of some loopholes. This would allow the government total control over future legislation and management of financial sources. Moreover, the most basic democratic acts such as parliamentary functions and even public voting elections will be at a halt. Many critics and the opposition in Hungary cannot help but wonder whether this emergency measures are justified and well-founded. Either way, the European Parliament is well aware of the manner in which the Prime Minister of Hungary has been moving forward, however little action is taken by the collective.
It is obvious that Hungary is the elephant in the room, but more countries have taken measures that may harm human rights and undermine the rule of law. In Slovakia for example the government is attempting to pass a law that will allow the government to track the movements of its citizens through mobile tracking as a means to ensure people are upholding the quarantine. Is it time to close one eye in front of the rule of law in exchange for safety? Is it really for the general wellbeing of populations to surrender these freedoms to the State? These are some rising reasonable but unanswered questions.
An evident decline in the freedom of press has been recorded latterly throughout the EU. On the one hand, protection against misinformation in relation to the outbreak is essential, but on the other who can ensure that such restrictions will be lifted as soon as the outbreak is contained. It appears that some governments with dictatorial tendencies might abuse the current situation in attempts to solidify their power. If this is proven to be the case, then it is not so far-fetched to refer to the Enabling Act, a dark part of Germany’s history during the 1933.
Many governments are enforcing curfews and even mobilising the military as means to ensure that the temporary restrictive measures are upheld. Furthermore, inflated fines are given to citizens breaking the curfew and some are even facing prison. During times like this the rule of law must be held in the highest priority. The Commission has highlighted that any restrictive measures must be removed as soon as the outbreak is contained.
Current temporary restrictions refer to times of war but reasonable citizens are evidently willing to surrender their freedoms for the greater good. Governments are re-ensuring citizens that these measures will begin loosening as the virus containment holds a steadier grasp. Others report that governments are maliciously planning to consolidate even more power given the opportunity. Let’s hope that this would not be proven to be catalytic for the trust between governments and their citizens.