Liberties in Lockdown 11 – Policing the pandemic: Freedom of assembly and COVID-19


In normal times, our freedom of association and assembly are guaranteed in article 12 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. At the same time, according to John Stuart Mill’s Principle of Harm, individuals should be free to do as they wish as long as their actions do not harm others, and if they do then society should be able to stop them. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up huge dilemmas for democratic leaders, especially in cities, faced with protecting and preserving these freedoms where possible, and at the same time ensuring all citizens live up to their responsibilities towards the health of others. But how to police the pandemic in a fair and proportionate way when scientific advice is evolving day by day and at times is contradictory?

On the other hand, what happens if a government tries to use this crisis to push toxic laws, that will affect the actual fabric of society? Shouldn’t citizens still have the right to peacefully protest these political moves, even with the risk of spreading the virus? As we are all vulnerable against COVID-19, citizens have accepted, to a certain degree, the emergency legislation used to stop its spread. However, we might encounter a democratic flaw if governments do not understand that these are only temporary measures, which must be proportionate to the threat, and should not be maintained longer than required. Without freedom of assembly and association, the democratic vibrancy of our cities and countries will be under attack, and this time it will not be from the coronavirus.

What lessons can be learned from this experience so far? Have cities policed the pandemic fairly? How will our freedoms be guaranteed during future crises? How will our responsibility to avoid endangering the health of others change relations between citizens? Can we be sure that if the people agree to a temporary restriction of their rights and freedoms, they will see them returned in full after the crisis? Should these rights become untouchable regardless of the crisis?

These questions, and many more, will be tackled by our distinguished speakers during the eleventh and final event of ELF’s online series – Liberties in Lockdown. This event is organised by the European Liberal Forum with the support of the Renew Europe Group in the European Committee of the Regions.

Time: 9:30 – 10:30 (CEST)

Speakers include: 

Jean-Luc Vanraes, Citizenship and Governance Coordinator, Renew Europe Group, European Committee of the Regions

Milosz Hodun, PhD, Member of Board of Directors, European Liberal Forum & President, Projekt: Polska Association

Ella Jakubowska, Policy and Campaigns Officer, European Digital Rights (EDRi)


Giada Negri, Research and Advocacy Officer, European Civic Forum

Opening remarks by:

Daniel Kaddik, Executive Director, European Liberal Forum

This event will be live-streamed on the European Liberal Forum Facebook page.

It’s clear that COVID-19 will reshape our societies, and indeed our lives, in many ways. What will our world look like once the lockdowns have ended and the travel restrictions are lifted? Will we recognise our countries and cities; our neighbourhoods and friends? Will we recognise ourselves? For the next few weeks, each installment of the Liberties in Lockdown series will have a particular focus, looking at, among other things, the economy, digital privacy and healthcare. We hope you can join us for these important discussions.

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