Passchier and Voermans on fundamental rights in times of crisis
Fundamental rights protect citizens from the government, but they are not absolute. A crisis situation not only gives the government the opportunity to restrict freedoms, it also shows citizens how far it is willing to go in doing so. ‘In the [Dutch] cabinets led by Rutte, there seems to be less and less sensitivity when it comes to constitutional rules.’
The question of what is permissible when and why, led to heated debate during the coronavirus crisis.
‘If you pointed to fundamental rights, you were seen as a bit of a nuisance,’ remarks Wim Voermans, Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law in a recent newspaper article. ‘Don’t you see that the government is sorting everything out for its citizens?’
Voermans is not alone in his conclusion that the emphasis in the Netherlands seems to have shifted more to the executive power and the legislative power (in particular parliament) and as a result, the judiciary has more difficulty in manifesting itself as a countervailing power.
His Leiden colleague Reijer Passchier, Assistant Professor in Constitutional and Administrative Law, and Professor of Digitalisation and the Democratic Constitutional State at the Open University, wrote a critical article on how digitalisation (and the related technocratisation) of governance in the Netherlands is putting pressure on the effectiveness of judicial and parliamentary control. For administrative bodies, it is becoming ‘increasingly easier and attractive to exchange information with each other’. As a result, the nature and the functioning of the government is changing. ‘Increasingly, the government organisation is no longer an orderly, defined hierarchical system with the government (or the legislature) at the top, but a complex iGovernment consisting of information flows and networks.’