In some recent blog posts, Italian star philosopher Giorgio Agamben frames the governmental response to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy and elsewhere as ‘frenetic, irrational and entirely unfounded’. According to Agamben, Covid-19 is not too different from the normal flus that affect us every year. The governmental reaction to the outbreak would be just another example of the tendency to use the state of exception as a normal paradigm for government. With terrorism exhausted as a legitimation for exceptional measures, the ‘invention of an epidemic’ would serve as an ideal pretext for scaling up such measures almost beyond limitation. Understandably, Agamben’s assessment of the current crisis has met with overwhelming criticism. Some commentators have even called to ‘defend society from Giorgio Agamben’, dismissing his statements as the dangerous ‘ramblings of a 77-year old man’ who should be de-platformed as soon as possible. Evidently, Agamben has been proven wrong in his appraisal of the spread of the virus as an invented epidemic, nothing to be actually worried about from a public health perspective. That does not mean, however, that his critique should not be taken very seriously.
The rule of law is under pressure in many States. In recent times, for example, Hungary and Poland have been severely criticised for changes they have made to their systems that undermine judicial impartiality and independence. Moreover, in several States, the pluriformity of the media is under pressure, the role of civil society is threatened, and the fundamental rights of minorities and asylum seekers are breached. These are all worrisome signs of the erosion of democracy and the rule of law in Europe. An important question is what can be done to stop this process of erosion and protect the values underlying the rule of law? Of course, political mechanisms can be used, but people and institutions also increasingly turn to supranational courts such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ). For example, in Hungary, the number of applications lodged at the ECtHR concerning rule of law issues has surged, and in Poland, both the Supreme Court and other Polish courts have brought rule of law issues to the ECJ’s attention. From a strategic perspective, the question can be asked whether it makes a difference for those who want to be involved in this type of litigation to address either the ECtHR or the ECJ with rule of law concerns?This post argues that it does, because of the differences in procedure and approach taken by the two European Courts. Continue reading