Human Rights and Democracy in Economic Policy Reform: The European COVID-19 Response Under Scrutiny
International Journal of Human Rights, vol. 24 (2020), special issue on human rights and economic reform, forthcoming.
19 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2020
Date Written: July 27, 2020
This article argues that the impact of economic policy reforms on democratic institutions might compromise the enjoyment of human rights, especially economic, social, and cultural rights (ESC rights). The impact of economic reforms on democratic institutions is twofold: First, economic reform policies driven by international and supranational financial institutions compromise democratic self-determination. Second, economic reform policies driven by the need to reduce public expenditure might put marginalized groups at risk and hamper their democratic participation. Since the realization of ESC rights requires a framework for legitimate redistributive decisions, any such impairment of democratic institutions as a consequence of economic policy reforms will in the long run pose a risk to the realization of ESC rights. Courts are unlikely to fully replace the role of the legislature in this respect. The Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments of Economic Reforms (the Guiding Principles) devise a way for jointly strengthening human rights and democracy. Crucially, they urge states to subject economic policy reforms to democratic control. Human rights impact assessments constitute a tool for the empowerment of the public sphere and for shifting internationally vetted economic policy reforms from the Arcanum of high-level negotiations back to democratic processes. Moreover, the Guiding Principles oblige states to take redistributive decisions comprehensively and with the full participation of those affected. The article shows the potential of the Guiding Principles by scrutinizing the measures adopted by the European Union (EU) in response to COVID-19 and analyzes how the EU could improve its procedures.
Keywords: economic rights, social rights, democracy, international financial institutions, European Union, human rights impact assessment, economic policy reforms, COVID-19
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