Corona Democracy in Europe

It is important that the current ‘corona-democratic state of emergency’ ceases once we have overcome the health-related consequences of the virus. Crisis legislation must not become routine. Therefore, Djøf has formed a new Corona Task Force.

Naturally, the focus in the early months of the corona crisis was on the health-related and economic dimensions of the crisis. But the time has come for us to address the discussion of how the crisis has affected our democracy. How do we ensure that crisis legislation does not become everyday legislation or ‘the new normal’? And what can we collectively learn from political crisis management so that we are better equipped for future crises? This is a collective exercise that does not stop at the Danish border, and we are obviously looking to the countries with whom we normally cooperate and compare ourselves. That is why Djøf’s Corona Task Force has cast its attention on democracy, freedom, and the rule of law in Denmark from a European perspective.
Lykke Friis citat Djøfs Corona Task Force
Lykke Friis

Why has Djøf formed a Corona Task Force?

In record time, COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it.

The rapid spread of the corona virus has created fear in populations, closed borders, and sent entire communities home. It has turned both the national and international political balances of power upside-down. 

Governments and parliaments around the world have passed comprehensive emergency legislation to slow the rate of infection. The Danish parliament passed a number of urgent laws in March and April 2020, which grant the government and its ministers far-reaching powers and restrict very basic freedoms.

Special emergency powers aimed at protecting populations in crisis situations are often justified; not least during a pandemic, the extent of which no one knows in advance. However, emergency powers must be necessary and proportionate. And they should only be used as long as the need exists. But when fear reigns, there is a risk that what is initially considered far-reaching will, over time, be accepted as a new normal. Or be used in a different way than intended.

In the wake of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and the heightened terrorist threat, so-called terror packages expanded the powers of the authorities and intelligence services to obtain personal information and use tele-data and surveillance. That which was intended as a weapon in the fight against terrorism also affects ordinary, law-abiding citizens. It has become normal.

In Denmark and other European countries, the first, acute focus after the corona outbreak was naturally on health: containment of the infection, social/physical distancing, test strategies, protective equipment, plans for treatment, and the race to develop a vaccine. Purpose: to limit the number of infected and dead as much as possible.

This was followed by a strong focus on the economic consequences. Financial aid packages to support wage-earners, businesses, the self-employed—and the economy—and proposals made in the EU for a common EU pandemic recovery fund. Purpose: to avoid mass layoffs, bankruptcies and economic turmoil.

The time has now come for a democratic aid package. Purpose: to focus on our democracy, our freedom, and our rule of law and to ensure that we emerge from the crisis stronger than when it broke out. 

Terror threats and COVID-19 share little in common. What they do share in common is the risk that special emergency powers become normal powers. It is important that the current ‘corona-democratic state of emergency’ ceases once we have overcome the health-related consequences of the virus. The crisis legislation must not become routine. The restriction of very basic freedoms must not become permanent. 

There is therefore a need to monitor and ensure that the countries of Europe recover as quickly as possible from the current ‘corona-fever’ state and return to their normal state: as democratic states governed by rule of law.

Here in Denmark, legal experts already fear for the rule of law as a result of the actions taken by politicians during the corona crisis. In Hungary, Viktor Orban was authorized to rule by decree while there was a state of emergency. In Poland, the incumbent government amended the electoral law by trumping an emergency election through the parliament. 

On the domestic stage, the Danish Folketing has given the Minister of Health far-reaching powers. Should the Minister deem it necessary, he can now, on his own, order citizens to be examined, admitted, treated, and isolated. The Minister can also decide on far-reaching restrictions on freedom of assembly and movement, and he can restrict access to means of transport and business premises. Many other European countries have restricted rights in the same way (some to an even greater extent) than has been the case in Denmark. All in the name of the corona crisis. 

And that’s why Djøf has taken the initiative to form Djøf’s Corona Task Force. We have gathered a small group of experts who are shining a spotlight on democracy, freedom, and rights during and after the corona crisis. Not only must we ensure a return to a democratic state of normalcy, we must use the corona crisis to strengthen democracy; both in Denmark and throughout the rest of Europe. And we must draw on this experience to ensure that we are better equipped for the crises that may befall us in the future.


In four briefs, Djøf’s Corona Task Force focuses on different aspects of rights during the corona crisis in Denmark compare to other European countries – such as our freedom of assembly our right to move freely, to have a case tried in a court of law and the right to run a business – and what it all means to our democracy. We ask the questions, whether the proportions are in balance when we look at the efforts from a European, human rights, and democracy perspective – and what we can learn for future corona waves or future general crises.

The four briefs are published continuously towards the time of the original Danish sunset clauses in the spring of 2021.  

In the first brief, we look at how different European countries handled the questions of freedom of assembly and lockdown. Did Denmark go with a harder or more lenient strategy than others? Were the interventions proportionate? And what else could Denmark have done?

In the second brief, we look at what the corona-lockdown in the spring 2020 shows us about the importance of clear decision-making processes and the respect for principle, when pragmatism prevails in a time of crisis. And we offer recommendations for a crisis plan for the courts that helps clarify the tripartition of power in a potential future crisis and secure transparency for the citizenry when and if the pillars of democracy are tampered with.

In the third brief prepared by Djøf’s Corona Task Force, we look at how European countries, dealt with the right of the business community to go about commercial activity during the first wave of the corona crisis. We also examine where Denmark placed itself in the European field, and we zoom in on a part of the business community that was (and still is) particularly hard hit, namely restaurants.

Who is in Djøf's Corona Task Force

Kristian Cedervall Lauta,

Kristian Lauta

Kristian Cedervall Lauta is a professor and vice dean of education at the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen. He researches in disaster law, international law, and human rights, and he published a book entitled Disaster Law in 2014. Kristian Cedervall Lauta is also currently serving as chairperson of the COPE research center (Copenhagen Center for Disaster Research), and he is involved in leading the Sustainability Science Centre (both at the University of Copenhagen).

Lykke Friis,

Lykke Friis

Lykke Friis is the director of Think Tank EUROPA. She has a PhD in political science (1997) from the University of Copenhagen, and her work and research have focused on European politics and society. From 2006 to 2019, she served as prorector of the University of Copenhagen, interrupted by a period as a Member of Parliament from 2009‒2013 and as Minister for Climate, Energy and Equality from 2009 to 2011. Lykke Friis sits on a number of boards, including the Danish Cancer Society (chairperson) and the European Council on Foreign Relations (vice chairperson).

Jørgen Møller,

Jørgen Møller

Jørgen Møller is a professor of political science at Aarhus University, where his research interest includes democracy, state formation, and international politics. From 2015 to 2020, he has spearheaded CODE (Conflict and Democratization), a research project examining how to promote democratization without increasing the risk of violent conflict. He is a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters (Videnskabernes Selskab).

Jens Elo Rytter,

Jens Elo Rytter

Jens Elo Rytter is a professor of constitutional law and specializes in human rights at the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen. His research interest is in European human rights, freedom and security, the interplay between national and supranational protection, and the constitutional role of the judiciary. He also chairs the Djøf legal panel—a panel of legal experts who provide legal insights for the public debate.

Mikael Sjöberg,

Mikael Sjöberg - Djøfs Corona Task Force

Mikael Sjöberg is a judge at the Eastern High Court and has been the chairman of the Judges Association since 2010. From 1994 to 2001, he was a judge in the Copenhagen City Court. He is the vice chairperson of public managers in the Djøf board of directors and also participates in the Djøf law panel.

What is the purpose of Djøf's Corona Task Force?

Through the dissemination of knowledge and public debate, we will help to ensure that the emergency legislation resulting from the corona crisis does not merely become standard, everyday laws, and that we as a society learn from the crisis. We want to help shape the future by helping to ensure that Danish democracy emerges stronger from the crisis rather than weaker, and that it is ready to handle future crises in a responsible, democratic, and rights-oriented manner. 

The task force will monitor and disseminate the gradual return to a democratic, rights-based state of normalcy in a number of European countries, including Denmark—highlighted through four selected focal points. It will publish four briefs on various themes focusing on democratic and legal aspects of the corona crisis, including the basis for the imposed restrictions on liberty and changes to criminal law.

We are not merely witnesses to an economic recession. We are also witnessing a democratic recession. In Denmark and a number of countries around the world, the outbreak of COVID-19 has caused a kind of ‘corona democracy’, with restricted rights, special punishments, and shifts in the balance of power. We therefore need an aid package for democracy and our rule of law. And when we get out on the other side, we must be wiser about how our democracy works and how we can deal with crises in the future, but hopefully also with a stronger community. The mission of Djøf’s Corona Task Force is to contribute to illness and crisis not merely being reduced to the misfortune it undoubtedly is, but that it also is used as an opportunity to expand our democracy and strengthen our rule of law.
Kristian Lauta citat - Djøfs Corona Task Force
Kristian Lauta

Djøf's Corona Task Force in the media (in Danish):

Berlingske: Juraprofessor forudser retssager over hele verden efter coronakrisen: Mange går rundt med ”en knude af uretfærdighed i maven” 24. april 2021 (for subscribers)

Information: Frihedsrettigheder er blevet indskrænket under corona: Danmark er i liga med Polen, mener organisationer 19. april 2021

Djøfbladet: Lykke Friis: Krisen fik os til at glemme retsstaten 13. april 2021

Altinget: Task force foreslår at oprette retsstatslige vismænd 23. March 2021

DR Slotsholmen: Dobbelt corona-straf møder kritik (00.24.00) 18. March 2021.

P1 Morgen: Formand Kristian Lauta, var gæst i P1 morgen (00.36.27) 17. March 2021.

DR1: Formand Kristian Lauta, var i TV-avisen 21.00. 16. March 2021

Berlingske: En professor og hans ekspertgruppe ser med bekymring politikernes genåbning: I er ved at gentage alvorlige fejl 12. March 2021 (for subscribers )

TV2: Bekymrede eksperter advarer regeringen før genåbningen: Gentag ikke fejlene fra sidst 12. March 2021

TV2: Chairperson, Kristian Lauta, appeared in the 21.30 news 22. February 2021.

P1 Debat: Hastværk, lastværk, makværk? 22. February 2021

Børsen: Ny epi­de­mi­lov ved­ta­ges uden af­kla­ring om er­stat­ning: Pro­ble­ma­tisk for rets­sik­ker­he­den, me­ner pro­fes­sor 22. February 2021 (for subscribers)

Politiken: Eksperter: Ny epidemilov er styret af krisetænkning og hastværk 18. February 2021 (for subscribers)

Jyllands-Posten: Juraprofessoren, der har fingrene i epidemiloven - og egen ølbrygning 16. February 2021 (for subscribers)

Berlingske: Først blev historisk beslutning hastet igennem, nu er den udskudt: »Det er en politisk syltekrukke« 3. February 2021 (for subscribers)

Jyllands-Posten: Opråb fra ekspertgruppe: Den nye epidemilov bør indeholde en ret til erstatning 31. January 2021 (for subscribers)

Berlingske: Danske domstole blev taget på sengen: Nedlukning udfordrede Grundloven, slår ekspertgruppe fast 05. December 2020

DR1 Deadline: chairperson of Djøfs Corona Task Force, Kristian Lauta, appeared on Deadline on dr.dk 27. November 2020 to discuss the mink case and the danish constitution

Berlingske: Danske coronaindgreb mod ældre var »ekstremt hårdhændede« 06. October 2020 (for subscribers)

Altinget: Lisbeth Knudsen: Vi kan ikke leve med et demokrati på pause, når krisen rammer 02. October 2020

Djøfbladet: Ekspertgruppe: Disse tre ting skal vi lære inden næste coronanedlukning 17. September 2020

P1 Morgen: Listen to chairperson in Djøf's Corona Task Force, Kristian Lauta, on P1 Morgen (00:40) 11. September 2020

dr.dk: 94-årige Torben døde ensom under corona-nedlukning: Eksperter kritiserer behandling af ældre 11. September 2020

Altinget: Juraprofessor om ny taskforce: Efter historisk indgribende love skal vi have et velfungerende demokrati tilbage  25. June 2020 (for subscribers)

DR1 Deadline: chairperson, Kristian Lauta, appeared in Deadline 14. June 2020

P1 Morgen: Listen to member of Djøf's Corona Task Force , Lykke Friis, on P1 Morgen (01.38) 13. June 2020

Politiken: Tvangsindlæggelser. Forsamlingsforbud. Den danske regering bevarer sine nødbeføjelser meget længere end andre EU-lande 12. June 2020 (for subscribers)



Questions regarding Djøf’s Corona Task Force should be directed to Chief Political Adviser Astrid Gufler dk¤djoef¤agu