COVID-19 and European Multi-Level Democracy
Klaus H. Goetz & Dorte Sindbjerg Martinsen
The COVID-19 pandemic that hit Europe in early 2020 radically reshaped the political agenda at all levels of Europe's multi-level system within a matter of weeks. It continued to overshadow all other public concerns throughout 2021. The single most important development that distinguished the second year of the pandemic from the first was that, from early 2021, COVID-19 vaccines became widely available and were rolled out throughout Europe. Early hopes that vaccination might offer full protection against infection were soon dashed. However, the availability of vaccines propelled governments to reorient policy from strict containment to approaches that meant ‘learning to live with the virus’. This shift was not linear. This review focuses on the intertwined multi-level and democratic implications of the pandemic, as it progressed into its second year, and on political science scholarship that has sought to describe, explain and make sense of policy, institutional and political responses and consequences. Given its transboundary nature, it was clear from the outset that the pandemic called for co-ordination across regional, national, EU and international levels. The inadequacy of existing European multi-level institutions to respond effectively was readily apparent from the onset of the pandemic and there were calls for rapid far-reaching reforms, for example in the form of a European health union. Academic observers have taken different views on both the extent to which the pandemic has changed the institutional balance and power relations between the EU and its member states and on its democratic implications.
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