Vice-President of the European Commission, Vera Jourova has spoken about her concerns about the threats to democracy resulting from the COVID-19 emergency measures across Europe.
In a speech given yesterday in Brussels, she asked: “what will be the state of European democracies after the crisis is gone?”
Speaking of her own experience under the authoritarian regime in Communist Czechoslovakia, Jourova said that “I know things can go wrong and that rights, freedom and democracy are not a given forever. If we want to preserve and uphold them, we must cherish them and fight for them.”
Jourova recognized that during a crisis, a balance needs to be struck between defeating the virus and safeguarding democracy and citizens’ rights and freedoms. She said that most of the measures that were introduced in Member States were legitimate but that they should all include democratic safeguards.
“Any emergency measure must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate and cannot mean “switching off” national constitutions or EU law. Such measures have to be limited in time, and face scrutiny of the people,” she said.
She announced that the European Commission will be monitoring the emergency situation throughout Member States, particularly their impact on the rule of law and fundamental human rights. The focus will be to scrutinise limitations which could go beyond what is proportionate and to identify any breaches of EU law.
The Commission will engage with citizens, journalists, civil society organisations and information made available by the government of each Member State.
Jourove stated that they will be paying particular attention to freedom of expression and the way independent media is treated. She said they are not only an industry sector, but they are the fourth estate and an essential part of democracy.
Lastly, she highlighted the plight of Europe’s minorities and the less fortunate in society.
“The COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities. Due to stigma, stereotypes and racial discrimination, many people face additional challenges during these times. I see reports about increased violence against women, about increased racism,” she said.
Jourova concluded that democracy is fragile and needs to be taken care of to prevent it being abused or not taken seriously.