BiEPAG: EU should monitor COVID-19 restrictions of democracy in WB

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 30, 2020 19:14

BiEPAG: EU should monitor COVID-19 restrictions of democracy in WB

April 30 - The EU should monitor how restrictions of democracy and civil liberties are managed during the coronavirus pandemic and identify which of these are permissible, Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) states in its latest policy brief, Western Balkans in Times of the Global Pandemic.

The brief points out that current government of the Western Balkans have taken advantage of the pandemic to gain more power "Within a month, the circumstances created during the COVID-19 pandemic have further contributed to the overall trend of democratic erosion reversing two decades of reforms in the Western Balkans. The semi-authoritarian regimes in the Balkans have used the emergency situation to achieve almost unlimited power. The state of emergency created solid grounds to further strengthen their regimes, which have a pattern of abuse of every opportunity to capture democratic institutions," BiEPAG states.

In this line, the brief notes that the emergency measures taken by governments against COVID-19 must be temporary and in line with democracy and rule of law principles. "Restrictions and violations of human rights, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution or the laws, legislative changes through fast-track procedures, changes to election rules, introduction of draconian measures and imprisonments because of social media posts – these are just some of the governments' actions aimed at intimidating citizens and the media in the Western Balkans these days," the brief adds. Among the examples of undemocratic practices mentioned in the brief are the declaration of the state of emergency in Serbia without the parliament's approval and publication of identities of COVID-19 positive persons in Montenegro.

BiEPAG suggests that the EU issue "guidelines in cooperation with the Council of Europe, on which restrictions of democracy and civil liberties are acceptable and how these should be managed in terms of their duration. The European Commission should actively monitor the measures taken and identify problematic restrictions and notify governments and the public" as well as "include the Western Balkans in its efforts to coordinate the gradual lifting of lockdown conditions."

China's increasing economic presence in the WB is also highlighted in the brief, especially after the support that came through by the former to the latter amid the coronavirus. Precisely this support, has been instrumentalized in the Western Balkans, in particular by Serbia, both to criticize the EU's response and to justify domestic measures based on China's authoritarian model.

"The EU has to secure its own autonomy to pursue its foreign affairs interests and to improve resilience in its own backyard when discussing 5G plans, infrastructure connectivity projects, climate change, public health, environment protection, and foreign policy with China. That will also require the EU's closer cooperation with WB countries in those areas," BiEPAG says.

As such, the brief recommends that the EU continues the integration process of WB countries by commencing accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible. Moreover, considering the ongoing pandemic and struggles, the EU should also include WB countries in its post-pandemic recovery plans by proposing additional funds to alleviate the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in WB countries.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 30, 2020 19:14