Well-organized democracies have so far navigated their way through the coronavirus crisis better than those with deficits in this area. These democracies have benefited from their forward-looking and participation-oriented approach to governance. However, we see worrying developments continue in states where democratic values such as media freedom, civil liberties and the independence of the judiciary were already under threat before the crisis. These states also demonstrated the weakest performance in terms of their response to the crisis. These are the findings of a special survey conducted by our Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) project on resilience in the context of the coronavirus crisis. The survey examined the resilience of democracy, resilience of governance capacity, economic resilience and the resilience of the welfare state during the first year of the pandemic.
The pandemic as a litmus test for the state and democracy
New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland top the ranking of resilient democracies, while Poland, Hungary and Turkey rank at the bottom. The governments of these latter countries exploited the pandemic to institute restrictions placed on civil rights. These rights have been temporarily curtailed in other countries as well, notes Schiller. "However, the issue then becomes the extent to which governments commit to restoring these rights as quickly as possible or to compensate as best they can for the loss incurred. In this regard, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Estonia, Greece, Portugal and the United Kingdom were equipped with the most binding roadmaps."
The resilience of governance itself is also very important. South Korea was the only country surveyed to have featured a crisis management architecture that was prepared to handle a pandemic emergency. The country benefited from the experience it gained during the MERS pandemic. New Zealand caught up quickly, however, topping the rankings on the resilience of governance capacity as a result of its "go hard and go early" approach and its four-tiered COVID-19 alert system. Greece has also done quite well. The Netherlands, Portugal and France land in the midfield. The assignment of clear responsibilities and policy coordination posed problems for many states – not only the federally organized states such as Germany and Austria, both of which still ranked relatively well at 5th and 11th place, respectively. Crisis management arrangements in Mexico, Hungary and Poland received particularly low ratings, with Israel and the United States performing only marginally better. "Those states with the institutional capacity to prepare for a crisis and respond effectively to it while maintaining accountability will do better coming out of the pandemic. Being better prepared for future crises requires the regular adaptation of a state’s crisis management architecture," says Schiller.
In the vast majority of countries, legislatures were also poorly integrated into crisis management systems. However, this was mostly a factor of time constraints, as leaders often had to respond with rapid fire to the situation. In New Zealand and Denmark in particular, at least crisis communication proved effective, according to the experts. Hungary, the United States, Poland and Mexico received the worst scores in this regard during the crisis.
Well-organized democracies feature more robust economies and welfare states
In terms of the resilience of their economies as well as their welfare states, Sweden, Germany and Denmark were best prepared in the first year of the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, Germany tops the ranking of the most resilient economies, thanks to its comprehensive short-time work schemes and fiscal policy preparedness. Sweden and Switzerland also receive high marks in this area. Japan and France land in the midfield. The United States ranks among the bottom third. And once again, Mexico brings up the rear. All states have taken on massive debt during the crisis. "Credit-financed support has in some cases helped cushion the short-term economic and social impacts of the crisis. However, this support has yet to contribute significantly to long-term challenges such as the sustainable transformation of an economy," says Thorsten Hellmann, a co-author of the study and economic expert at our foundation.