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Does Corona policy threaten our fundamental rights? Scientist warns of "creeping process"
by Ulrike Guerot
Sunday Feb 28th, 2021 5:01 PM
The state is allowed to restrict citizens in a pandemic so as not to endanger public health. But the state doesn't have the right to harm citizens. It does not get to decide which life is worth protecting and which is not. This article was published in German on 2/22/2021.
Does Corona policy threaten our fundamental rights? Scientist warns of "creeping process"
Ulrike Guérot criticizes "triage on another level" by the state -
[This interview published on 2/22/2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Bedroht Corona-Politik unsere Grundrechte? Wissenschaftlerin warnt vor "schleichendem Prozess" - Politik -]

NÜRNBERG - For almost a year, our lives have been governed by regulations designed to contain the coronavirus. But what impact does this have on our society? A conversation with political scientist Ulrike Guérot, who warns of a creeping habituation to restrictions on fundamental rights and appeals to allow more scientific pluralism again.

Ulrike Guérot heads the Department of European Policy and Democracy Studies (DED) at Danube University Krems.
Ms. Guérot, FDP Vice President Kubicki recently warned of growing anger among the population and expressed fears that this anger could also turn violent at some point. Do you also see this danger?
Ulrike Guérot: I, too, see the danger of a split in society. What we are experiencing at the moment is a single-issue policy. The pandemic is a danger for a very small part of the population and has an impact on virtually everyone. Some parts of the population feel disconnected from the current policy. There is definitely a risk that they will eventually stop participating. We have seen in Italy that restaurateurs have simply reopened their restaurants. Now, of course, you can say we'll enforce the regulations by hook or by crook and force them to close. But my big concern is that this kind of thing can only happen in a para-authoritarian way.
School, shops and hair salons open: These are the new Corona relaxations for Bavaria. After weeks of Corona lockdown, the Bavarian cabinet decided on Tuesday on further cautious opening steps. From March, in addition to hairdressers, among other things, chiropody practices are to be allowed to open. Garden centers, garden markets, flower stores and DIY stores are also to be allowed to sell their goods again soon. An overview.
At the moment, I have the impression that most people have come to terms with the current situation and accept the rules, even if they can't understand them in detail.
Guérot: In my view, a much greater danger is that a kind of habituation sets in. That, in a creeping process, we slowly come to accept that fundamental rights are negotiable in certain situations. As a political scientist, when I look at the current parliamentary process, my hair stands on end, also with regard to coming crises. We've taken it for granted that parliaments are going to be left out, and we find it almost obscene to bring them in, because it takes too long.

And we have a lively discussion about how China can do it better. Of course, you can look at it that way, but then you also have to realize that China is not a democracy.

The restrictions are temporary and apply as long as the pandemic requires.
Guérot: We have been governed by a mixture of expertocracy and executive government for almost a year now. The philosopher Markus Gabriel once said that the goal of all measures must be a complete rollback. But no one talks about that anymore. Even the seven-stage plan proposed by the FDP for an exit envisages a "life with AHA rules" as the last stage of "normality." But that is not the state of before.

A broad inoculation of the population could mean a possible phase-out.
Guérot: I can't see that happening. In my eyes, the current vaccination debate shows above all that there now seems to be no consensus that fundamental rights are neither negotiable nor divisible. On the day that Foreign Minister Maas brought up the idea that vaccinated people should be given back their basic rights, I was really very shocked. Because a broad discussion then broke out about the fact that the time was still too early, and he was accused of having party-political motives. What didn't happen was that broad sections of society decisively rejected the idea that fundamental rights are conditional. So the taboo had already been broken at that moment.

But isn't it the state's job to protect the lives of its citizens?
Guérot: In a democracy, we save every life we can to the best of our knowledge. That's different from saying we save every life. In a democracy, for example, we do not save any life at the price of human dignity. That's why we don't torture, even if it might save someone from death. We have always accepted as a society that a certain portion of the population dies from viruses, germs or other pathogens. Saving every single life is not a state task, even if that may sound unpopular.

So in your opinion, the state should stay completely out of it?
Guérot: No, absolutely not. The state is allowed to restrict citizens in a pandemic so as not to endanger public health. What it is not allowed to do is to harm parts of the population for this purpose. What is being done right now is triage on a different level. We are saving lives at the expense of those who didn't get to the hospital, didn't have surgery, have a heart attack. At the expense of those whose cancers are not detected, at the expense of abused children and those who commit suicide. But the state does not have the right to harm citizens. It does not get to decide which life is worth protecting and which is not.

Not even if there is a threat of the health care system being overburdened?
Guérot: That this would happen is a hypothesis. We look at other countries that have completely different health care systems and social structures than we do and deduce that it could happen in exactly the same way here.

Corona: Has the Ministry of the Interior influenced researchers?
Experts say that such a scenario could also threaten us.
Guérot: This assumption is precisely one of the problems in the current discourse: that there is one science that knows the objective truth. But that is not true. A society is not a mathematical formula. Unchecked exponential growth in infection numbers is a hypothesis that many scientists say would not happen, and that is not observable even in countries without lockdown. I don't want to get into other people's areas of expertise at all. I just want to say: we need to strengthen scientific pluralism again. Discuss other points of view, weigh them up. There are many approaches, all of which have the right to be heard.

"I, too, could develop horror scenarios".
But isn't it the state's duty to anticipate and avert a looming scenario, even if it is only a hypothetical one?
Guérot: In recent months, we have been guided by simulations by mathematicians and virologists. This is currently happening again: If this and that mutation occurs, this and that could happen.
If I wanted to, I too could create such horror scenarios in my field and say: We've had democracy off its hinges for a year. It's like an old rusty bicycle that you've put away for too long and it's so warped that you'll never get it back to the way it was. After September 11, for example, we introduced measures that we have never taken back. To this day, airports are high-security tracts and you have to strip almost completely if you want to get on a plane, even though terrorists today wouldn't be able to get to the pilot at all.

Only low excess mortality in 2020: What the statistics say - and what they don't say

Isn't there an almost cross-party consensus that the measures are currently necessary?
Guérot: At the moment, we are witnessing an extensive homogenization of the parties and, at the same time, a shift in political lines. Left-wing parties are increasingly advocating restrictive measures, while proposals to defend freedom are coming through the AfD's door. But I don't want to have to vote for the AfD - and I stress, I will never vote for the AfD - to defend freedom.

There was also a homogenization across the media, especially in the early days of the pandemic. I can no longer see the plurality that once existed.

The media have a social responsibility. That includes protecting people.
Guérot: But this responsibility applies to the entire population, not just to a small segment. It would be appropriate to name the consequences of the current policy in the same density as the damage it causes. However, this has not been done for a long time out of a misguided sense of protection. Any criticism was immediately suppressed and opponents of the measures defamed. This has led to the formation of a broad counter-public that has migrated to alternative sites on the Internet. What is happening now is that this counter-public is being defamed.

So you understand the demands of this counter-public?
Guérot: We started to evaluate "understanding" negatively in the Putin-understanding debate. In the days of Egon Bahr and Herbert Wehner, understanding Moscow was something positive; the two were praised for it. I think that in democratic discussions one should always allow for the possibility that the other side might be right.

One year of Corona in Germany
The Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus has changed the world like probably no other pathogen before it. More than two million people worldwide have died from or with the virus. In Germany, the first infection became known on January 27, 2020. We look back on one year of Corona.
What do you think policymakers should do in concrete terms?
Guérot: As I said, I see an urgent need to strengthen scientific pluralism.

But what I see as completely missing from the whole discussion so far is the point about ownership. Instead of relying on the political instrument of fear to get people to go along with everything, the state should bring them out of their state of shock and encourage them to take on more personal responsibility. Taking care of one's health where possible is an important contribution to the community of solidarity.
Lack of sports for children and young people: These are the consequences

You have been involved with European integration for a long time. What impact do you think the pandemic has had on this process?
Guérot: First of all, this crisis clearly shows that without Europe, nothing would work. Without the ECB's 1.8 trillion bailout package and the 750 billion euro economic stimulus program, we would all be up a creek.

However, we are currently experiencing a fundamental violation of the Maastricht Treaty. Our legal right to European citizenship is effectively suspended if we differentiate at the borders according to whether someone is a worker, transports goods or travels privately.
My two sons live in France and I wanted to visit them last spring but was not allowed to because I do not have a French passport. So passports suddenly count again. Working is a valid reason to cross the border, being a mother is not. In the meantime, I have filed a complaint with colleagues at the European Court of Justice in order to document and process cases like this.
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