In Europe the coronavirus pandemic has led to emergency measures which balances public health against personal freedom. From the outbreak of disinformation online, to passing emergency measures that give sweeping powers to the ruling party, the European Union faces unprecedented challenges.
One of the main battles that the EU faces is the spread of disinformation and fakes news around coronavirus. According to the EU's foreign policy arm, the External Action Service, the latest reports identified 'very intensive production of disinformation from pro-Kremlin sources'.
When questioned about how the EU can fight back against possible state actors spreading disinformation, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová replied:
"We see the propaganda amplified now against the EU. We will never fight with the same weapons…We will not use any kind of dirty propaganda against those who produce this news.”
As EU countries begin planning their lockdown exit strategies, there are questions over the use of mobile phones to track the pandemic raising privacy concerns. The EU led the way on digital privacy with the GDPR directive, so does the EU worry about the use of such mobile tracking?
“Not at this moment," Jourová says. "We want the people to give specific informed consent before being part of using such a tool... As for the emergency regimes: they must not be with us forever."
At present 20 EU countries have some form of lockdown and emergency measures in place. However, Hungary's recent emergency bill has received criticism over whether or not it can be reversed.
“When you read the law, it is quite comparable with other laws providing for the emergency regimes in the (other) states," says Jourová. "But the context is difficult, because there was low confidence in the past towards the Hungarian government and the prime minister…. so we should remain vigilant and look at the application.”
How is democracy affected?
How coronavirus is reshaping society has been a topic of lively debate. But how it is reforming democracy has received less press. Whether European democracies will emerge unscathed is an open question.
“I always say that by killing coronavirus, we should not also kill democracy and fundamental rights in Europe. We simply must not rely on democracy and the full battery of fundamental rights coming automatically back. We have to be vigilant," says Jourová.
On the issue of the rule of law, which has seen battles pitting Brussels against the ruling parties in Poland and Hungary, Jourová cites a new tool in the arsenal to protecting EU values.
"It's time to also use a new instrument which has not been adopted yet. I mean, the conditionality of the EU money and the principle of the rule of law. So we have proposed this conditionality and if somebody does not understand why we need to uphold our values, maybe they will understand the language of money. And so I think that the combination of tools will be useful for the future."
The full interview can be seen on Euronews on Thursday April 9 from 19.50 CEST.