MEPs say European values must prevail, even in a state of public emergency

MEPs say European values must prevail, even in a state of public emergency

The European Parliament warned against “risk of abuse of power” and called on the Commission to step up its efforts by taking legal action where necessary.

The COVID-19 pandemic must not endanger EU values and a democratic decision-making process, MEPs warn. They insist that emergency powers must be necessary, proportional, time-limited and subject to democratic scrutiny. Additionally,  bans on demonstrations should not be used to pass controversial measures  and safeguards must be in place to protect the rights of all people, including women, LGBTI persons, refugees and prisoners.

The European Parliament rapporteur, Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D), stated: “This pandemic is turning out to be the worst crisis in the history of the European Union. Nevertheless, the European Parliament is fulfilling its duty towards citizens by fighting for their rights and freedoms, especially where governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to attack EU values. The Commission and the member states must step up their efforts to uphold fundamental rights, democracy and rule of law during this crisis and ensure that governments uphold democratic principles in their measures”.

During the plenary of 12 November  a debate was held with Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, where almost all speakers expressed concerns regarding the rights of citizens and vulnerable groups in a number of EU countries where state of emergency measures have been taken. The following day, the Parliament adopted a resolution that takes stock of the state of European democratic values in the context of national measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the resolution, Parliament points out that emergency measures pose a “risk of abuse of power” and stresses that they must be necessary, proportional and of a temporary nature when they affect democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights. National governments should “not abuse emergency powers to pass legislation unrelated to the COVID-19 health emergency”.

Furthermore, within the resolution Members of the European parliament call on EU countries to

  • end their “state of emergency”, or at least clearly define the delegation of powers to their executives, and ensure appropriate parliamentary and judicial checks and balances;
  • refrain from unduly restricting the freedom of assembly or banning demonstrations to adopt controversial measures;
  • refrain from adopting measures that profoundly impact on fundamental rights, e.g. sexual and reproductive health and rights (such as the de facto ban on abortion in some member states), while public health concerns do not allow for due democratic debate and safe protest;
  • uphold the right to free and fair elections, especially in relation to changes to electoral legislation;
  • ensure equal rights for those standing for election and campaigning, and consider alternative forms of voting;
  • exercise utmost restraint in restricting the freedom of movement, especially in relation to the right to family life;
  • guarantee the right to education by ensuring students have access to learning;
  • guarantee access to asylum procedures despite the pandemic, and immediately evacuate the camps on the Greek islands and relocate asylum seekers to other EU countries; and
  • find solutions to safeguard the rights of defendants through technology or judicial cooperation, and protect the rights of prisoners.

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