The Civil Liberties Union for Europe published a report on Tuesday detailing the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on democracy and the rule of law in 14 countries in Europe and providing recommendations for the EU.
The report detailed major infringements such as:
Restrictions on media freedom and political pressure on the press especially in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia as journalists have been targeted;
Detention of protestors and harassment of activists in countries such as France, Spain, Croatia and Slovakia;
Ineffectiveness of the judicial system through lack of resources from the government, thus creating “heavy case backlogs” that interfere with fair access to justice, especially in Italy, Ireland, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.
The report highlighted the “long term negative effect” that infringements such as these could have on both countries with strong democratic participation, such as Germany and Sweden, and countries already having issues with democracy and the rule of law, such as Bulgaria and Romania.
The report called the findings a “wake-up call for governments and politicians” and stated:
The rule of law is not only about our societies being governed by pre-determined laws or procedures. Or about defending individuals from abuse. It is the bedrock of democracy, closely interlinked with the shared European values of human dignity, freedom, equality and respect for human rights. … Weaknesses … in one or more EU countries are worrying signs for the health of democracy in the EU as a whole.
The report recommends that the European Commission “expand its scope” in its annual audit of countries’ democratic record to contain both “clear recommendations to individual countries” and the application of sanctions “to countries that are damaging the rule of law.” It also recommended that the EU provide “adequate funding” and “targeted support” to rights and democracy groups.