Democracy in times of the pandemic: explaining the variation of COVID-19 policies across European democracies

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  • Sarah Engler
  • Palmo Brunner
  • Romane Loviat
  • Tarik Abou-Chadi
  • Lucas Leemann
  • Andreas Glaser
  • Daniel Kübler

In fighting the spread of COVID-19, the drastic measures undertaken by governments worldwide demonstrate a trade-off between public health and fundamental democratic principles. Yet this behaviour is not consistent across democracies, which motivates this paper to examine why some democracies were willing to constrain individual freedoms and concentrate power more than others during the pandemic’s first wave. Creating two indices to measure the degree to which COVID-19 policies interfere with these democratic principles in 34 European countries, the analyses show that the large variation cannot be solely explained by pandemic-related factors. It is argued that the strong protection of democratic principles already established in ‘normal’ times makes governments more reluctant to opt for restrictive policies. By highlighting how differences in policy responses are attributed to provisions guaranteeing individual liberties, this paper contributes to a better understanding of how democracies handle the democratic dilemma in times of crises.

Original languageEnglish
JournalWest European Politics
Issue number5-6
Pages (from-to)1077-1102
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 19.09.2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

    Research areas

  • COVID-19, democracy, fundamental rights, public health crisis, public health policies, state of emergency
  • Politics