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Directors' Cut

Directors’ Cut Ep.4 – The emergency CoViD-19 and the rule of law: how the world is fighting corona virus

Covid-19 is placing itself as one of the toughest challenges Europe and world at large have experienced in the last 50 years. The consequences of this crisis are with little surprise shaking the international system. Governments are putting in place difficult solutions to overcome the pandemic, from closing the borders to shutting down the production capacity of their countries. Some, however, have been reacting to the spreading of the virus with repressive measures to consolidate their power. In this episode of the Directors’ Cut, we will analyze the challenges of this crisis, as well as the different solutions envisioned by leaders in Europe and abroad.

Fabio Seferi: First of all, let us tackle the elephant in the room: the CoViD-19 crisis is here to stay. Its repercussions will have dire consequences for all countries, exponentially more for the most hit ones. Until a medicine to treat the disease or a vaccine to prevent its spread have been developed, governments will have to curb its fallouts. Collapsing healthcare systems, economic downturns, and industry-wide and supply-chain disruptions: these are some of the paramount issues that we whole as a society will have to face in the coming months. 
Although far from being Europe’s hotbeds for coronavirus, CEE countries are in any case facing this extreme situation with various degrees of involvement and response. The worst hit countries are Poland and Romania (close to 8,000 confirmed cases) and Czechia (more than 6,000 cases).[1] The picture remains worrying, fuelling doubts and preoccupation for future trends and developments in the region.

Giorgia Miccoli: CoViD-19, indeed, is posing new and unprecedented threats to the world. Globalisation seems to be its first apparent victim, followed by restrictive fiscal policies, privatization and freedom. According to analysts, the virus will have an important role in reshuffling the priorities of the world leaders as well as our freedoms. With more than 2 millions confirmed cases around the globe, hence, the coronavirus is threatening more than our summer vacations, it is threatening our system of values. 
More than 30 countries are using covid-19 to restrict citizens’ rights [2]. Shadowed by emergency measures, governments are taking different decisions to tackle the virus. Some of them have been judged as too extreme and inacceptable by the public opinion, not last the Hungarian ones.

FS: A crisis, therefore, which will not only undermine economic growth but also the stability of social fabrics around the world. Not all important things can be measured through economic indicators and the threat of slipping into authoritarian political systems is more present than ever. 
As you mentioned, a case that conquered public headlines in Europe was the Hungarian one: the country’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán can now rule by decree, in an emergency-state action to contain the spread of the virus. The problem here relies on the essence of the measure. Historically, rules issued in case of emergency have a clearly stated deadline in order to preserve the democratic order, not granting the rulers an indefinite timespan to have extraordinary powers. However, the Hungarian parliament did quite the opposite, granting PM Orbán the right to rule by decree indefinitely.

GM: As Budapest, also Warsaw is experiencing an unsettling of its democratic system. Indeed, the government is planning a forced election by mail that has never happened before. The Law & Justice party indeed aims at helping President Andrzej Duda remain in power for another term. Elections planned for the 10th of May should still take place according to the ruling party. As a matter of fact, this can be read as another attempt to use the crisis and its uncertainties to drive elections to a specific direction, using a mail vote system as a loophole.
What is happening in Serbia, furthermore, highlights the weakness of the country’s political system. Belgrade approved a decree that ensures the government the complete control on information during the whole crisis. 
These events are shaking the public opinion, and forcing pressure on the European Union, who is expected to act as soon as possible to limit further violation of civil rights.

FS: An important actor in this situation is the European Union. The EU has streamlined four priorities for its action: (1) limit the spread of the virus; (2) ensure the supply of medical equipment; (3) promote the research of medical treatment and vaccines; and (4) sustain occupation, enterprises and economies. Of course medical measures of limiting contagion have had a paramount importance in this phase of the pandemic. However, as we are seeing, some countries are curbing political and civil liberties indefinitely. The risk of having permanent and irreversible democratic downturns is very much real. In the next phases of the pandemic, the European Union has to play a bigger role in securing and strengthening the rule of law of its Member States. Another problem for Central-Eastern Europe is the presence of non-EU countries. Thus a concerted and common response to the spread of the virus is even more difficult. For example, Belarus is underestimating the crisis and is not even undertaking the basic social distancing or quarantine measures as the rest of Europe.

GM: A key issue now faced by the EU is how to act vis-à-vis Hungary, again. While the European Parliament has condemned Budapest and Warsaw for their actions, labelled as “totally incompatible with European values”, the Commission is still lacking a precise strategy of action. President Ursula von Der Leyen expressed her concerns over the coronavirus emergency law in Hungary, but more than 80 NGOs, politicians and journalists are still asking for a clearer position in the EU on the matter. Once again the EU is facing a threat to the rule of law in one of its member states. The way is still long and winding, but as Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders reassured, Brussels will follow how things will unfold in these countries and take the necessary measures.

The future of our system of values will be shaped by how governments will proceed in dealing with CoViD-19. The spreading of the virus has been used to consolidate power and activate repressive initiatives in some countries, highlighting the fragility of the international system and the need of an in-depth review of the pillars on which it relies.

[1] Refer to “Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak” of the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/coronavirus-maps.html.

[2] In an article of the 9th of April, VICE rattles off the regimes that are acting against human rights. To read more: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/dygbxk/these-30-regimes-are-using-coronavirus-to-repress-their-citizens.

By Giorgia Miccoli

Born in 1994, in Pescara, Giorgia has been living in Forlì for the past five years. She has a Bachelor in International and Diplomatic Sciences at the University of Bologna, Campus of Forlì, where she recently obtained a Master’s Degree in International Politics and Security. She’s has been Research Intern at the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) in Rome and at the Centre of European Research, QMUL. Her main research interest regard European history, European security, EU external relations and, more specifically, transatlantic relations.

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