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How Democracies Can Beat the Pandemic

Contrary to the popular media narrative, the COVID-19 pandemic has not strengthened the case for Chinese-style authoritarianism so much as it has given the lie to illiberal populism. With national unity governments, the world's democracies would be well positioned to confront the coronavirus head on.

VIENNA – Europe is experiencing one of its worst crises since World War II. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its countries should turn to a classic democratictool for dealing with existential challenges: national unity governments supported by broad parliamentary coalitions.

As it stands, many European countries – notably France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Poland, and the Czech Republic – are run by governments with weak support, owing to deeper sociopolitical fractures. The new threat from COVID-19 follows a decade of unprecedented political polarization and populist revolts across the continent. In Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and (in a way) the UK, anti-establishment populists now lead governments; in Germany, France, and Italy, they are major components of the parliamentary opposition.

What Europe’s populists share is a belief that traditional liberal democracy is too weak and cumbersome to manage the challenges of the twenty-first century. Their modus operandi is to mock the role of policy experts, and to rally “the people” against intellectuals and other elites.

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