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Emergency measures should not erode democratic rights, warns EU president

The European Union's leading official has urged member countries to respect the bloc's core values amid fears that restrictions imposed by some national governments to combat the coronavirus pandemic could erode democracy across the continent.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged the need for emergency measures as reported virus-related deaths approached 30,000 in Europe, but she reminded EU members they need to respect core values such as the rule of law, human rights and media freedom during the public health crisis. Her comments came a day after Hungary's parliament approved a bill giving prime minister Viktor Orban's government extraordinary powers with no end date in response to the pandemic.

Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmes's cabinet has also been granted authority to govern by decree without parliamentary involvement for six months, while French legislators passed a law increasing the prime minister's powers, a move harshly criticised by a magistrates' union and the human rights league.

In many other European countries, the suspension of previously guaranteed personal freedoms, including the right to demonstrate, gather and circulate freely, have raised fears that policies might be extended to last beyond exceptional lockdowns.

"It is of utmost importance that emergency measures are not at the expense of our fundamental principles and values," Ms von der Leyen said. "Any emergency measures must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate. They must not last indefinitely. Moreover, governments must make sure such measures are subject to regular scrutiny."

She said the European Commission would monitor "in a spirit of co-operation" the application of emergency laws adopted in EU nations.

Belfast Telegraph