Security or freedom? – Europe’s new dilemma – The Weekly 41

Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, western civilization has always been haunted by the big question: which of the two core values is more important? 

Which one should be given a larger role in organizing our societies: security or freedom? 

Can we sacrifice individual freedom on the altar of guaranteed security? Or is the right for individual decision so inalienable from a free human being that it cannot be overruled in any case, even if the individual may make bad decisions in certain cases?

In the spring of 2021, this is the very dilemma Europe faces. Entailed by the coronavirus pandemic, the supposedly temporary restrictive measures have marginalized several human rights which, just a year ago, were considered as the essential conditions of a European existence. The post-WW2 European community established a highly delicate balance of freedom and security where the right to free movement and the prohibition of discrimination have become unquestionable values and, ultimately, the core principles of the European Union. Up until last February, if you asked anyone in the street about the EU’s most important and palpable achievement in their eyes, even most of the full-blooded Eurosceptics would likely have answered with no hesitation: free movement within the continent and the opportunities that every EU citizen enjoys as a person living in one of the world’s largest democratic communities.

That’s why I find it so deeply concerning to realize that Europe has already been living under such restrictions that completely disregard these rights and freedoms for nearly a year. Of course, I do not question that extraordinary situations, such as a world pandemic, require extraordinary solutions. On the other hand, true democracy means that even special solutions and extraordinary situations must be measured on the scales of democracy. In other words, restrictions must not be arbitrary or disproportionate, they must not lead to any discrimination and they must be adopted in a transparent manner for a period no longer than the emergency exists.

Last spring, when the European states responded to the thus far unknown virus by closing the borders and restricting free movement, there was hardly any voice, apart from a few extremists, to question the justification and proportionality of the adopted measures.

Nearly a year later however, European citizens still live with night curfews and sealed or hardly crossable state borders under a quasi war readiness, while several countries, as vaccines become increasingly available, are seriously considering to legally discriminate among citizens based on their vaccination status. To make matters worse, there’s hardly any overlap between the measures of the different countries: each state decides on its own as to who can travel where and under what terms. With a few exceptions, Belgium has forbidden any crossing of its borders, while Hungary sealed its border with police force and does not allow any foreigners to enter. Germany even limits transit across its territory (which causes a considerable setback when your country happens to be situated in the middle of the continent), while France introduced a night curfew as early as 6 p.m. Although generally considered temporary, the thousands of minor differences have already been splitting the European Union that holds free movement as its fundamental principle.

 

In the meantime, some southern member states tie the resumption of tourism to the introduction of vaccination passports, while the Hungarian government’s thinly-veiled agenda is to require a vaccination certificate for such basic activities as visiting an event. 

Of course, we know that vaccination is important and I completely agree that vaccination is the only long-term solution for the virus.

On the other hand, I am fully convinced that we need to use science and its results to convince people, rather than political pressure or perhaps even police force. However, certain governments openly threatening their citizens will hardly lead to a real consensus in terms of the vaccines. Instead, this attitude is likely to cause social tensions and lead to the looming danger of reverting to an age where people were discriminated against on a daily basis.

 

Decision makers undeniably bear an enormous responsibility since they need to find the balance between contrary values and interests. The dilemma between security and freedom is more intense than anything else. However, I do hope that neither will take precedence at the expense of the other in the long run. If that happens, it will be the end of democracy, the European Union and the European lifestyle as we know it. If the situation deteriorates to that point, it will render obsolete all our ancestors’ struggles and hard work to bring forth this community which considers human dignity, freedom and initiative as a supreme value. - JOBBIK MEP MÁRTON GYÖNGYÖSI

 

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