available languages: english June 4, 2020

Almost all EU Member States have introduced states of emergency or enacted similar measures to contain the spread of covid-19. These legal regimes have profoundly affected the rule of law, altering the political and legal landscape. As EU countries gradually lift the lockdowns and begin opening their borders and economies, which emergency measures will remain in place? Businesses are re-opening, but freedom of assembly remains restricted and courts function at minimum capacity. Simultaneously, while attention is focused on the fight against the virus, measures might intentionally or accidentally escape scrutiny and remain in force despite no longer being needed.

Our webinar, held on 9 June 2020, explored these challenges, their lingering consequences and dangerous developments, focusing on the situation in Finland, Hungary, Italy and Poland, as well as on cross-cutting issues common to all EU Member States.

Our panellists included:

  • Professor Cristina Fasone (Assistant Professor in Comparative Public Law at Luiss Guido Carlo, Rome)
  • Jakub Jaraczewski (Legal Officer, Democracy Reporting International)
  • Professor Kim Lane Scheppele (Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University)
  • Professor Martin Scheinin (Professor of International Law and Human Rights, European University Institute, Florence; former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism)

In Hungary, worrying reforms and dangerous adjustments to the constitutional framework are underway whereas in Poland, strict measures overlap with an impending overload of courts and an ongoing attempt to hold the presidential election. In Italy, a fractured legal landscape of measures met one of the most severe outbreaks of the virus while in Finland – a country almost serene by comparison – the pandemic nevertheless provided unique legal challenges. 

Despite different experiences in both the outbreak of covid-19 and the reaction to it, all four countries face some common challenges. The constitutional frameworks for states of emergency were tested, with some countries forgoing them altogether. Emergency measures were introduced using a wide, and frequently confusing, variety of instruments, leading to a lack of legal certainty. In the extreme case of Hungary, these measures give rise to the fear of a permanent state of emergency. In all four countries, courts are set to face a daunting task of dealing with an overload of postponed and delayed cases while facing new “corona-cases” unique to the circumstances related to the pandemic. 

Questions from the audience touched upon lessons learnt for drafting emergency legislation and the role of the civil society in the process of countering a pandemic. 

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This webinar was organised in cooperation with the RECONNECT programme.

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) works to improve public understanding of the rule of law in the EU as part of the re:constitution programme funded by Stiftung Mercator. Sign-up to DRI’s newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to find out more about the rule of law in Europe.