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Wim Voermans on freedoms surrendered during two years of coronavirus

During the coronavirus years 2020 and 2021, Dutch citizens became poorer, more anxious, less free and more rebellious. The State gained more power and entered the lives of citizens in all manner of ways to protect their health. Only recently did the State give citizens their freedom back – in part.

During the two coronavirus years, citizens were severely limited in the exercise of their constitutional rights, perhaps even more so than at the beginning of the crisis. The suspension of those rights was not undemocratic; the debate was always about whether the duration and extent of the suspension was proportionate to the seriousness of the damage caused by the virus to the health of citizens or the health care system.  

Wim Voermans, Professor of Constitutional Law, sees the normalisation of far-reaching government measures returning in forthcoming legislation. ‘The government is trying to streamline the possibilities it was given last year in the amended Public Health Act into a long-term strategy [“pandemic preparedness”]. The  Council of State has already called for this. If such a “normalised” lockdown regulation were to be introduced, I expect that the Dutch Lower House would once again be left out in the cold,’  Voermans wrote in Dutch newspaper NRC.

Local democracy was also damaged. Mayors increasingly sidelined municipal councils and became a power factor in the Security Regions Council. Voermans: ‘The municipal councils had no say in far-reaching matters like closures of cafés, restaurants and museums or the banning of demonstrations. Mayors had the lead.’ In the current election campaigns for local councils, this loss of influence plays no role

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