Coronavirus disrupts democratic norms around the globe

But there are also concerns about potentially dangerous breakdowns in control and compensation, and concerns that authoritarian leaders could use public fear of the pandemic to weaken democratic institutions at a time of vulnerability.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is now pushing for laws that give him extensive emergency powers to rule the country for a longer period by decree – which will result criticism by human rights officials.

But even in capitals where such seizures of power are unlikely, the imposition of alarms or emergencies – as they currently exist in many EU countries – has led some officials to conclude that new mechanisms may be needed to play the role of the legislator to protect and preserve the democratic control of the executive authorities.

The President of the Italian Senate, Elisabetta Casellati, gave one on Sunday extraordinary statementShe insisted that Parliament was still in business and called on Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his government to step up consultation with the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Chamber of Deputies.

“The centrality of Parliament can never fail, especially when government policies restrict the personal freedoms and activities of citizens that are essential to the country’s economy,” said Casellati. “It is therefore important that the Prime Minister and the government establish a systematic link with the Chamber Presidents that has never been implemented in relation to regulatory initiatives related to the coronavirus emergency.”

In Italy and elsewhere, however, it is far from clear whether governments will continue to function normally as all branches of government come under unprecedented pressure.

Political leaders, like everyone else, are at risk of personal infection. Prince Albert of Monaco and the First Ladies of Canada and Spain have already tested positive for the virus. Chancellor Angela Merkel isolated herself on Sunday and feared that Europe could overcome part of the crisis without its most experienced leader at the forefront. Some governments like the United Kingdom., rest to clarify succession plans.

In Washington, at least five Republican senators fail due to being infected or exposed to the coronavirus, which may endanger the passage of emergency laws to support the U.S. economy and highlight the risk of government paralysis when elected officials are commissioned to respond to the crisis are getting sick.

The U.S. has not yet developed Plan B to keep Congress running, even though the Trump administration has been looking for new powers for the Department of Justice to seek indefinite detention without trial, in an emergency. This underscores concern about executive overreach as lawmakers fight for their roles.

The absence of the five Republican senators reduced President Donald Trump’s majority control to just one vote – 48 to 47 – and provided them with a solid dozen of the 60 votes required to overcome various procedural hurdles prior to legislation such as z The gigantic economic stimulus package amounting to 1.8 trillion euros can be adopted with a simple majority.

Dick Durbin, a Illinois Democrat, and Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, have called for changes to existing rules so that senators can vote outside the chamber during a crisis. However, changing the rules themselves requires a two-thirds majority.

Other governments around the world are already taking extraordinary steps – some of which could permanently change how rulers make decisions and accelerate the adoption of new technologies that were previously considered unsafe or inappropriate for official business.

Last week the EU College of Commissioners held its weekly conference call conference for the first time.

During an extraordinary session of the Spanish Congress, deputies can vote on Wednesday on two labor and agricultural decrees, as well as urgent measures to respond to the pandemic and the economic consequences from afar.

And on Thursday, the 27 heads of state and government of the European Council will meet via video conference after having canceled their regularly scheduled summit in Brussels. The agenda was narrowed to focus only on the crisis.

The desperate efforts to maintain the government’s functioning reflect two equally important needs: the need for government measures, including immediate economic measures, to respond to the crisis; and the acute desire to reassure citizens, businesses and financial markets that the authorities are in control – even if they were completely unprepared for the outbreak.

However, in some cases, officials find that it is far more difficult than expected to break old rules that require face-to-face meetings or voting, often with a minimum number of participants required for a quorum.

On Friday, the EU ambassadors agreed on a plan that would suspend formal EU Council meetings for 30 days and allow ministers to meet via video conference instead. EU countries will then make formal decisions using an optimized “written process” – a longstanding mechanism by which national capitals remotely vote on policy proposals.

“It is critical to our business continuity,” said a senior EU official. “We can’t just run away and say, ‘OK, we’ll come back after the crisis.'”

What was expected as a rapid change in the rules in the face of the crisis has become more than two days of debates that dealt with the practical limitations of video conferencing – including the inability to provide interpreting services in all EU languages ​​- and the legal aspects, philosophical and even psychological consequences of not having to negotiate personally, which is a hallmark of the EU decision-making process.

“These rules of procedure do not only exist because we are regular fetishists,” said the EU official. “They are there because they address some very real concerns and those concerns concern the protection of Member States’ rights.”

The ambassadors were afraid of a far-reaching change that would have given videoconferencing sessions formal status. The main concerns were practical and also related to the legal implications of the move. “Because it is about legislation, we have to do it right,” said a senior ambassador.

A second high-level ambassador presented the 30-day change as a moderate emergency measure. “We are not going from meetings to intergalactic video chats,” said the ambassador. “We still have all the structures and the written procedure.”

EU ambassadors representing the bloc’s member countries continue to meet face to face, but in order to do justice to the social distance, the size of the delegations has been greatly reduced. Ambassadors are limited to a maximum of two and sometimes no advisors. In addition, meetings are held in the largest rooms of the EU Council to create distance between the participants.

At least the EU made a decision in which the capitals officially confirmed the new plan on Monday. In Chile, attempts to adopt new remote voting rules failed last week because insufficient MPs supported the change.

Parliaments across the western world are struggling with similar issues.

Graziano Delrio, Chairman of the Democratic Party in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, has pushed that plans are made to enable tele-voting. This week, Parliament will hold a video conference hearing with Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri, but it is not clear that Italian conservatives will ever allow a remote vote.

In Spain, almost all parliamentary work that has nothing to do with the corona virus has been stopped. despite an explanation Earlier this month by the president of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, Meritxell Batet, who said: “Congress is not closing.”

Spain, however, allows remote voting, which until now has only restricted MEPs who have received prior permission to be absent for strict reasons, including pregnancy or serious illness.

In Canada, parliament has effectively closed for five weeks – a decision that was a little less dramatic than it seemed since three of these weeks had already been scheduled.

In Britain, Parliament continues – only with fewer parliamentarians.

There is currently no plan for the House of Commons to cancel its meeting until March 31, when a pre-planned Easter break begins, although the opposition Labor Party has requested that this date be brought forward by a week.

Some MPs still stay away, and the Prime Minister’s questioning session last Wednesday is one of the least visited in Westminster that everyone can remember. Government control continues through the selected committee system. In circumstances where MPs cannot attend, committee chairpersons answer questions by text or email to pass them on to witnesses.

As any journalist will tell you, asking questions via email is not the same as asking questions in person. Reporters also face new obstacles when it comes to reviewing those in power.

Daily press conferences with the Prime Minister’s spokesman on Downing Street became conference calls starting Monday. In this sense, Britain is only a little behind the European Commission, which switched to daily long-distance calls last Thursday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his recent daily coronavirus press conferences may need to be remotely operated, despite trying to reassure reporters that they could continue to participate. “I see your fear,” said Johnson, a former journalist himself, “I’ll do it.” Make absolutely sure that everyone can ask questions. “

In Germany, lawmakers were on the verge of changing Monday’s demand that more than half of all MPs be present in person for many important votes to limit the likelihood of the virus spreading within the government.

The current regulation suggested that at least 355 members of the Bundestag would have to be present in the chamber to implement immediate measures this week, at a time when German citizens were instructed to practice social distancing by holding the gatherings to just two people restricted and banned with large gatherings.

Many legislators were expected to continue to follow the debate from their offices and to enter the Chamber only for a vote. Group leaders reportedly reached an agreement on Monday with only a quarter of MEPs present.

In France, the bicameral parliament officially voted for it on Sunday declare a health emergency. The National Assembly, the House of Commons, was almost empty when the final decision was largely made by proxy to avoid a crowd. The law empowers the government “to decide, by decree and on the recommendation of the Minister of Health, general measures that restrict freedoms to limit movement and crowd,” and also empowers the Minister to “continue to request goods and services necessary to fight the hygiene disaster. “

Elections were also questioned by the virus.

A second round of French local elections and presidential elections in several US states have been postponed. But Poland is press forward with plans for a presidential election in May – even if opposition politicians complain, it won’t be fair because they cannot camp effectively due to corona virus restrictions, giving incumbent Andrzej Duda an advantage.

Charlie Cooper, Matthew Karnitschnig, Rym Momtaz and Hans von der Burchard contributed to the reporting.

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