Members' Research Service By / January 18, 2022

Parliaments in emergency mode: Lessons learnt after two years of pandemic

The pandemic has been a veritable test bed for new parliamentary practice and procedures. Never before, in recent history, have parliaments had to adapt in such a short timeframe to a situation clearly putting into question the very idea of legislatures as collective deliberative bodies adopting decisions after unmediated, public and pluralist debates taking place in the free and fair setting of the Chamber’s premises.

© European Union 2020 - Source: EP; Laurie Dieffembacq.

Written by María Díaz Crego and Rafał Mańko.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 presented parliamentary institutions around the world with a new and unprecedented scenario. Parliamentary rules of procedure in representative democracies are commonly built upon the principles of pluralism, deliberation and transparency, aiming to provide an arena in which representatives of the people have the opportunity to publicly confront each other’s points of view in a free and fair setting. It is, therefore, safe to say that ordinary parliamentary practice and procedures are essentially incompatible with measures seeking to minimise social contacts and discourage − or directly forbid − mass gatherings. As a logical result of the adoption of the first restrictive measures aiming to limit the spread of the virus adopted in EU Member States in the first months of 2020, parliaments followed suit and implemented specific measures aiming to ensure the continuity of parliamentary business while limiting the spread of the virus and protecting the health of their members and staff. In the early days of the pandemic, the European Parliament, together with some other EU national parliaments rushed to digitalise parliamentary activities in an attempt to ensure that all members could take part in parliamentary proceedings despite the crisis situation. Some EU national parliaments opted to adopt decisions with a reduced number of members and others decided to adopt social distancing measures, while at the same time ensuring that all members could continue to take part in parliamentary activities. Nearly two years on from the beginning of the pandemic and with Covid‑19 infection rates spiking all over Europe due to the Omicron variant, it is time to take stock of the lessons learnt from this health crisis from the point of view of parliamentary law. In this vein, this publication updates a previous briefing of April 2020 and analyses the modifications in the working methods of the European Parliament and selected EU national parliaments throughout the pandemic, aiming to show the advantages, but also the possible drawbacks of the new practices.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Parliaments in emergency mode: Lessons learnt after two years of pandemic‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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