On Thursday 30 April, the Standing Committee of the Assembly held its first meeting by video-conference with a virtual current affairs debate on "The response of Council of Europe member States to the COVID-19 pandemic with respect to human rights, democracy and the rule of law". Twenty-eight PACE members took the floor during the debate.
"There is a consensus that our Assembly should assume its role as a vigilant guardian of the functioning of our democracy during this period of extreme crisis," said Jacques Maire (France, ALDE), opening the debate.
These 'states of emergency', he warned, involve "an increase in the powers of the government and a reduction in the powers of parliaments and the judiciary. This tends to blur the separation of powers and unbalance the checks and balances that are normally the basis of democracy."
"Serious concerns have been expressed in some countries at the proportionality of these limitations, and that some have taken political advantage of the situation," said M. Maire.
He referred to limitations on citizen's liberties, including restrictions on freedom of movement, assembly, expression, the right to asylum or the protection of the rights of the child, data and privacy concerns, as well as the "strain" on democratic institutions, and the threat to basic electoral principles.
Confronted with these challenges, respect for the principles of the rule of law during a state of emergency was "the art of compromise", he suggested, underlining that "the principles of legality must be respected, emergency measures must be limited in time, the principle of necessity must prevail in such exceptional situations and parliaments must retain the power to control the action of the executive".
The Standing Committee will hold its next meeting also by video-conference in the timeframe of the initially scheduled June session (22-26 June). The exact date will be decided by the Bureau of the Assembly on 7 May.