European citizens want their governments to crackdown more on their liberties to stop the spread of coronavirus according to polling done across the Continent.
This is an alarming but unsurprising development when one considers the unprecedented global crisis we are living in. Unlike the financial crisis of a decade ago, the coronavirus has come from an uncertain starting point and is affecting everyone both young and old, rich and poor in ways that nobody could quite predict. The virus unsuspecting creep into the consciousness of society has made people panic and has ensured that the instinct of the hunted to seek protection from the bigger hunter has been triggered in our societies.
It should be unsurprising to learn that Italy, the country in Europe most badly impacted by the coronavirus has one of the highest levels of support for the measures that their government has introduced. Given the strain that the country is facing combined with its ageing population and the almost unstoppable surge of deaths due to the virus has seen 63% of Italians saying they would back state control of citizens movements even without their consent. 67% even supported the idea of using cell phone data to check that people are abiding by movement restrictions.
In Germany, a poll by Forsa suggested that 88% of the citizenry thought that the current lockdown measures were correct whilst 55% were in favour of stricter measures but only 10% thought that measures should be loosened earlier than expected.
In France, 57% of the population did not think the measures were strict enough and only 3% thought that the measures were too strict. Even more interesting given what has gone before, approval ratings for Emmanuel Macron suggest an upward trend since the beginning of the crisis.
So, what are we to make of this?
On the one hand, it is perhaps reassuring that the public in these nations broadly support the measures that their governments have introduced-an important thing in any democracy- and as such they are willing to comply with them so long as they produce results. This suggests that the feeling of community solidarity has resurfaced in a time of great communal struggle amongst the nations of Europe, and could be a sign of healing divides in what are usually very divided nations.
On the other hand, that polling indicates some amongst the citizenry wish to hand over even greater powers to the government to infringe upon their liberties is deeply concerning. It was only a short time ago that President Macron was resorting to using tear gas and other such methods to crackdown on protests and the German President was calling for there to be a clampdown on free speech. If governments take citizens at their own words and start implementing more draconian measures that crackdown on freedoms in the name of tackling this current crisis, there is no guarantee that those measures will be lifted once the present crisis is lifted.
After all, there is currently no cure for the virus, and thus the threat of infection and death remains ever present in the minds of everyone. It would be quite easy for governments across Europe and the world to start drawing out protective measures ostensibly in the name of protecting their citizenry, but in reality to accrue more power and deal with dissenting elements in their societies.
We have seen how far from the letter of the law the police and other busy bodies in the UK have gone after all. The police in the UK seemed to have decided that the current law does not go far enough and have thus taken to enforcing their own version of it, be it either through using drones to spy on people and then post tweets shaming them for going for a walk, or through setting up portals and hotlines for people to snitch on their neighbours if they suspect-emphasis on suspect-their neighbours of having gone out for more than one piece of exercise a day.
Indeed, a woman in the UK was already arrested and found guilty of breaking the law under the Coronavirus Act, in Newcastle before being found innocent. Her crime? Not telling the police why she was at the train station. She was arrested and charged under Section 21 of the Act which compels people to self isolate or be tested if they suspect they have the virus, yet the police didn’t even bother asking her if she suspected that she had it or even if she’d been tested.
So, you can see why these polling results are worrying.
It might be that this is all an overreaction and the government and law enforcement of these nations will stick to the letter of the law and not extend or exaggerate these measures after all Germany and Italy are not Britain. But, the concern remains that it only takes one snooping neighbour or one busy body cop for everything to go tits up and for freedom to disappear. No community spirit can make up for that.