European Parliament hears DPIR academic review of Governments’ pandemic response

On 31 January Dr Mihail Chiru delivered a short presentation to the European Parliament’s Special Committee on the COVID-19 pandemicfollowed by a 45-minute Q&A with Members of the European Parliament. He shared key findings from his Literature Review on Parliamentary oversight of governments' response to COVID-19, which was commissioned by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) for Members and staff of the European Parliament.

His 63-page report examined parliamentary oversight of governments' pandemic response in the EU27 and four other countries (Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States).

By assessing parliaments' involvement during the early stages of the health crisis (when many countries were operating under emergency regimes) and then mapping the parliaments' law-making and oversight role during the pandemic, the study assesses the successes and failures of parliaments’ COVID-19 responses from 2020 to 2022.

Parliaments were generally more resilient in fulfilling their oversight roles where constitutional and legal frameworks created opportunities for scrutiny, he reports. An example is that of incongruent bicameralism, which allowed opposition parties in Austria and Czechia to correct or delay controversial government legislation.

Dr Chiru found a high degree of variation in the extent of parliamentary scrutiny between the 31 countries he studied. In many countries Parliaments made effective use of ordinary tools of parliamentary oversight and set up inquiry committees or new permanent committees to assess the executives’ handling of the pandemic. In other, fewer countries, the executives have limited the opportunities for parliamentary oversight or the parliaments themselves have self-restricted their involvement in such scrutiny.

‘The review seeks to identify best practice regarding parliamentary oversight during the COVID-19 pandemic,’ Dr Chiru commented.

‘I hope to provide evidence for potential reforms that parliaments could pursue to strengthen their preparedness for future crises.’

‘It is worth highlighting the creation in France, Latvia, Slovenia and the US of special parliamentary inquiry committees investigating the governments' measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 and fiscal measures. Denmark went one step further and established a permanent Epidemics Committee.’

This study was written by Dr Mihail Chiru at the request of the Ex-Post Evaluation Unit of the Directorate for Impact Assessment and European Added Value, within the Directorate-General for Parliamentary Research Services (EPRS) of the Secretariat of the European Parliament.