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Illiberal regimes are exploiting the pandemic to attack the foundations of democracy

It took us 75 years to rebuild freedom in some parts of Europe after the totalitarian horrors of World War Two, and less than three weeks to bring it to its knees again.

With coronavirus looming in the background, worrying erosions of the freedom of speech and media are being rushed through Europe.

On March 30, Hungary’s parliament passed a law that allows the leader of the country’s nationalist movement, Viktor Orban, to rule by decree indefinitely. The law makes it possible for Orban’s government to imprison anyone who publicises false facts that interfere with the “successful defence” of public health, or can create “confusion or unrest” related to the coronavirus.

The witch-hunt after personal freedoms followed and led to a number of arrests. Such a sweeping amount of discretion on the side of government is a death sentence for freedom of speech, the cornerstone of democracy.

Freedom of speech plays an essential role in establishing accountability between the government and its electorate, and it facilitates indiscriminate, back-and-forth communication. When governments monopolise this freedom, democracy can be extinguished.

Orban chose the right target. Even though it is claimed that these laws will be relieved once the pandemic is over, his record suggests the opposite. Since his victory in 2010, Orban has tightened state control over the media to suppress any opposition and eroded, step-by-step, institutional checks and balances. According to him a state need not be liberal to be a democracy.

But it’s not just Hungary. In Serbia, the government’s decree about the centralisation of information during the coronavirus emergency gave rise to arrests. On April 1, after reporting about a shortage of protective medical equipment available for staff at a medical centre in Serbia, Ana Lalić, a Serbian journalist, was detained. Lalić was charged with causing public unrest by spreading fake news during the emergency.

In a similar fashion, the Polish Ministry of Health made it illegal for medical consultants to issue independent opinions on the epidemiological situation, the state of hospitals, and methods of protection against infection. Speaking up about the lack of protective equipment can cost Polish doctors a job.

Meanwhile both Slovenia and the Czech Republic have announced that they are ending the presence of journalists at official press conferences altogether. According to Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, a Slovenian journalist who requested information about the measures adopted by the government to address the pandemic has been the target of a smear campaign by media close to the political party leading the government coalition.

Despite the growing number of cases in Russia, Vladimir Putin continues to push for a nationwide vote on constitutional reform which could enable him to stay in power until 2036. On May 13, Russian lawmakers passed a bill that allows Russians to vote by mail or online for Putin’s constitutional amendments. Most likely Putin will get it his way since, similar to the direction chosen by Hungary, speaking up against the government automatically makes you a heretic.

Where people are pushed into choosing between the protection of their life and that of their loved ones and an act of political resistance, most opt for silence. Yet forcing such a choice is inhumane, manipulative and, in the end, will lead to the demise of those governments that do so.

An ardent admirer of China’s measures to halt the coronavirus, Putin has also resorted to outright totalitarian measures. The Financial Times and New York Times might soon be banned from Russia for revealing the truth about the death rate in the country. However, the first target of Russia’s anti-fake news campaign has been its own citizens, who are being fined for spreading ‘fake information’ about Covid-19. The already very small number of civil freedoms in Russia is under enormous threat.

Free elections are a key trait of democratic regimesm but are not sufficient in themselves. Genuine democracy cannot exist without civil rights and, in particular, the right to resist through protests, free speech, and a free media.

One could hardly imagine a better excuse to quickly proceed with illiberal agenda than a public health emergency. There is a reason why illiberal governments invest so much in propaganda. The very root of their power lies in artificially created and frighteningly powerful narratives that are repeatedly and consistently spread whilst censoring every voice of dissent. Freedom of expression is to democracy what property rights are to the economy. The monopolisation of either leads to disruption.

So we’re at an impasse. On the one hand, this pandemic might dissuade us from taking cues from the unfree world and its tactics.

On the other, the emergency nightmare might turn into our permanent reality by giving governments carte blanche to enforce severe restrictions on our liberties. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way to suppress every potential disobedience than through the appeal of fear for our health, not to mention that of our parents, friends, and literally everyone dear to us. This provides illiberal democracies with a once-in-generation opportunity to camouflage their totalitarian pursuits as part of emergency packages to stop the pandemic.

Let us hope that for the best but be prepared to fight back in case of the worst. Democracy is rooted in freedom of speech and media and we have to defend it at all costs.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Don’t put ordinary consumers on the hook for flying back Thomas Cook holidayers

CONTACT:
Fred Roder
Managing Director
Consumer Choice Center
fred@consumerchoicecenter.org

Don’t put ordinary consumers on the hook for flying back Thomas Cook holidayers

London, U.K. – On Monday, the travel company Thomas Cook announced it would cease operations immediately after it was unable to raise enough money to pay off its debts. This has left hundreds of thousands of travelers without return flights from their holiday destinations.

As a response, several politicians in the U.K. called for government aid to Thomas Cook, and the government has been called to intervene and help out stranded travelers.

Fred Roeder, London-based Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center, responded by stating that an intervention by the government would be the wrong direction to take.

“It is sad to see a legacy travel company such as Thomas Cook to go under,” said Roeder. “But many politicians want to show their support to stranded travelers by flying them home on taxpayers’ dime.

“While it is very unfortunate to be stranded at the end of a holiday, one should ask why taxpayers should pay for tourists who didn’t buy insolvency or travel insurance?

“Why should those who stayed home because they either didn’t have the money or time for holidays bail out those who went for a holiday trip but didn’t want to spend the extra few pounds for insurance? This is effectively is the scenario that ordinary British consumers and taxpayers are faced with,” said Roeder.

“We cannot expect Britons who didn’t go on holiday to bail out those who did without reasonable insurance, and effectively bail out the company for its own financial mess.

“Airlines and tour operators going bankrupt happens regularly. Monarch and AirBerlin are just two recent European examples. If the government steps in every time a travel company goes bust, the wrong incentives will be set: Travelers won’t buy insurances and at the same time risk booking heavily discounted offers from troubled travel companies.

“If this happens, then the next government-sponsored airlift will just be around the corner,” said Roeder.

The Consumer Choice Center fights for affordable flights across the world. Read more here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice.

We represent consumers in over 100 countries across the globe and closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Classement : les dix aéroports européens les plus conviviaux

Le Consumer Choice Center a lancé son European Airport Index, qui classe BruxellesZurich et Düsseldorfen tête des 10 premiers aéroports d’Europe en termes de convivialité pour les passagers.

Cet indice, le premier du genre en Europe, devrait être utilisé « pour informer à la fois les consommateurs et les administrateurs quant à savoir qui fait le meilleur travail pour accueillir les passagers », souligne dans son communiqué The Consumer Choice Center (CCC), dont le Top 5 est dominé par Bruxelles-Zaventem et Zurich-Kloten, devant les plateformes de Düsseldorf, Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez et Manchester. Viennent ensuite CopenhagueAmsterdam-SchipholStockholm-ArlandaFrancfort et Munich.

Paris-Orly est cité comme 4eme au niveau de l’expérience client (en nombre de passagers par an par restaurants et magasins), tandis que Madrid est présenté comme « le seul aéroport du sud dans le palmarès » – où ne figure aucune plateforme d’Europe de l’est. Les meilleurs en termes de distance du centre ville sont Dublin et Lisbonne, tandis que Londres-Heathrow se distingue par le nombre de salons d’aéroport (44, soit 1,82 million de passagers par salon, moins que Zurich ou Moscou-Vnukovo respectivement deuxième et troisième). Ni Heathrow ni Paris-CDG, dont le trafic est triple de celui des deux gagnants, n’entre dans le Top 10, note le CCC.

Les 30 aéroports les plus importants d’Europe en nombre de passagers ont été étudiés selon un système de points établi par le centre, en fonction d’un ensemble de facteurs « allant de l’emplacement et des options de transport à l’expérience en aéroport et au réseau aérien », selon Fred Roeder, directeur général du CCC, coauteur de cette étude. D’autres facteurs ont été pris en compte dans le classement, notamment « les passerelles d’embarquement plutôt que l’embarquement par bus, la proximité du centre-ville, le nombre de salons, les temps d’attente et le respect des horaires par les compagnies aériennes ». Des points supplémentaires ont été attribués aux aéroports ayant obtenu une autorisation préalable pour les vols avec les Etats-Unis (TSA pre-clerance) ou leur capacité de diffuser les temps d’attente au passage de la sécurité.

Yaël Ossowski, directeur adjoint du Consumer Choice Center, a déclaré que ce classement « démontre le pouvoir d’offrir à la fois fonctionnalité et confort » dans les grands aéroports : Comme tout voyageur le sait pendant l’été, de nombreux aéroports « sont aux prises avec des pics de passagers en haute saison, et cette expérience se répercute sur tous ceux qui prennent un vol. Des points ont été attribués aux aéroports qui offraient d’excellentes destinations dans le monde entier, mais aussi un mélange sain de boutiques, de restaurants et de commodités » dans l’aéroport. Le système de points « vous donne un excellent aperçu des aéroports que vous devriez envisager d’utiliser lors de votre prochain voyage, que ce soit pour vos vacances ou pour votre travail », a-t-il conclu.

L’étude complète du CCC est disponible ici.

Originally published here

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