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Is COVID-19 Killing Democracy?

Global media are so consumed by the public-health and economic consequences of COVID-19 that they have failed to pay adequate attention to growing political and institutional risks. In fact, if we are not careful, the biggest casualty of COVID-19 could be democracy.

BRUSSELS – The economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis occupy almost everyone’s thoughts and conversations. And for good reason: the European Union, for one, is headed toward the worst recession in its history, with the economy expected to shrink by 7-12% this year. But far less is being said about the danger the pandemic poses to democracy, even though the signals are similarly ominous.

The EU acted fast to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. The European Central Bank launched exceptional monetary measures, and the EU introduced a recovery and reconstruction package amounting to €1-1.5 trillion ($1.1-1.6 trillion). Differences over how to finance an EU rescue package remain, but the primary objective is straightforward: to achieve a rapid V-shaped recovery, though a slower U-shaped recovery remains a distinct possibility.

Beyond a straightforward economic recovery, however, is the widely shared ambition of building a greener, more digitized European economy. Virtually everyone agrees that the COVID-19 crisis represents an important opportunity to accelerate such a transformation, though the jury is still out on whether the EU will seize it.