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COVID-19: PACE President, joining other Council of Europe leaders, urges democratic safeguards during and after pandemic

PACE President Rik Daems has underlined the need to keep democratic safeguards in place during and after a pandemic, particularly parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, and again warned governments against trying to keep some restrictions in place once the COVID-19 crisis was over.

Speaking during a high-level video-conference organised by the new Greek Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, chaired by Greek Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis speaking from Athens, the President said we should “refuse to accept the abnormal” once the crisis is over, when it comes to fundamental freedoms and democratic values.

He warned that nationalists and extremists could try to take advantage of the pandemic to “wrongfully grasp the concept of freedom” and use it for their ends. But instead of turning in on themselves, states needed to work together to deal with such crises, the President said, appealing for a multilateral response.

Parliaments needed to be “on deck at all times” in a crisis, he said, approving any temporary ceding of powers to the executive and subjecting governments to parliamentary scrutiny. “It’s important not to cross certain red lines, or diminish the power of the parliament, to whom citizens have handed their trust,” he pointed out.

The President explained that the Assembly was preparing five reports related to COVID-19, and was actively encouraging national parliaments in the Council’s member States to hold debates on the key issues surrounding the response to the pandemic, as well as its aftermath: “We know that life will be different, but our values and principles should remain the same.”

He warmly welcomed the priorities set out by the Greek Chairmanship and expressed the hope that the Assembly could work together with the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General in a “trialogue” format, including on the issue of human rights and the environment.

Speaking at the same event, Dora Bakoyannis (Greece, EPP/CD), head of the Greek delegation to PACE, urged Council of Europe member States to use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to “learn, adjust and improve”, and to build a permanent toolbox of human rights and democratic standards which could respond to such challenges in the future.