Coronavirus and the Future of Democracy in Europe

By Hans Kundnani

The pandemic raises difficult questions about whether liberal democracies can adequately protect their citizens.

It is less than a month since we published our research paper on the future of democracy in Europe. But it feels like we now live in a different world. The coronavirus has already killed thousands of people in Europe, led to an unprecedented economic crisis and transformed daily life – and in the process raised difficult new questions about democracy.

The essence of our argument in the paper was that democracy in Europe should be deepened. But now there is a much more basic question about whether democracies can protect their citizens from the pandemic.

Even before the coronavirus hit, there was already much discussion of a crisis of liberal democracy. In particular, there has been a debate about whether liberalism and democracy, which had long been assumed to go together, were becoming decoupled.

In particular, ‘illiberal democracies’ seemed to be emerging in many places including Europe (although, as we discuss in the paper, some analysts argue that the term is incoherent). This model of ‘illiberal democracy’ – in other words, one in which elections continue to be held but some individual rights are curtailed – may emerge stronger from this new crisis.


In my latest Expert Comment for Chatham House, I’ve shared some initial reflections on the impact the coronavirus might have on democracy in Europe.
Hans Kundnani Chatham House

Hans Kundnani is a Senior Research Fellow with the Europe Programme at Chatham House.

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