States of emergency in response to the coronavirus crisis: Situation in certain Member States

04-05-2020

With the first case of unknown pneumonia reported in the province of Wuhan (People's Republic of China) on 31 December 2019, within few weeks the coronavirus (Covid-19) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 30 January 2020. Since then it has spread to most corners of the globe. While the health threat it poses and the challenge it represents for human health is paramount, no less important is the strain it puts on the legal order. For most of the affected countries, in particular in the EU, this outbreak is posing unprecedented institutional challenges and has obliged institutions and governments to adopt strict measures affecting citizens' rights in a way unparalleled since the Second World War. While some Member States' constitutions include mechanisms allowing for recourse to a 'state of emergency' or the entrustment of special powers to specific institutions, other Member States' legal orders do not, either for historic reasons or owing to institutional tradition. Crucial aspects of the exercise of public powers under a pandemic threat include not only the extent of the measures adopted, but also their legitimacy, raising the question of their duration and of the degree of parliamentary oversight. This briefing is the first in a series intended to offer a comparative overview of the institutional responses adopted in different Member States, in the light of i) the constitutional framework for the state of emergency or legitimation of the emergency legislation ii) the specific measures adopted, iii) the extent of the parliamentary oversight exercised over the measures adopted. This first briefing, therefore, offers an overview of the responses to the coronavirus pandemic in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain.

With the first case of unknown pneumonia reported in the province of Wuhan (People's Republic of China) on 31 December 2019, within few weeks the coronavirus (Covid-19) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 30 January 2020. Since then it has spread to most corners of the globe. While the health threat it poses and the challenge it represents for human health is paramount, no less important is the strain it puts on the legal order. For most of the affected countries, in particular in the EU, this outbreak is posing unprecedented institutional challenges and has obliged institutions and governments to adopt strict measures affecting citizens' rights in a way unparalleled since the Second World War. While some Member States' constitutions include mechanisms allowing for recourse to a 'state of emergency' or the entrustment of special powers to specific institutions, other Member States' legal orders do not, either for historic reasons or owing to institutional tradition. Crucial aspects of the exercise of public powers under a pandemic threat include not only the extent of the measures adopted, but also their legitimacy, raising the question of their duration and of the degree of parliamentary oversight. This briefing is the first in a series intended to offer a comparative overview of the institutional responses adopted in different Member States, in the light of i) the constitutional framework for the state of emergency or legitimation of the emergency legislation ii) the specific measures adopted, iii) the extent of the parliamentary oversight exercised over the measures adopted. This first briefing, therefore, offers an overview of the responses to the coronavirus pandemic in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain.