Coronavirus and the Law in Europe, by Pablo Salvador Coderch, Ignacio Garcia-Perrote Martinez, and Tomas Gabriel Garcia-Mico

By October 2021, the Coronavirus disease has caused more than 200 million infections and more than 5 million deaths all over the world. The reaction of the scientific community, world governments and pharmaceutical laboratories has been doubtless fast. Nevertheless, one of the main lessons learned from this case is the absolute need of designing, developing and maintaining long term lines of research in the scientific community. A living and leading example is the extraordinary achievement of Katalin Kariko (1955-), a Hungarian researcher that started to develop research many years before the pandemic in an environment not always receptive for her tenacious work that eventually led to the development of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Now 82 European colleagues, with the help of Intersentia Publishing House, the Catalan Guild of Notaries and the Spanish Guild of Property Registrars, and under the extremely efficient management of Prof. Marta Santos Silva have edited and published Coronavirus and the Law in Europe, a book that covers the legal reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic in 18 countries and regions. We will shortly reassess the case for the need of taking a longer perspective on the coronavirus pandemic. 

The book, 1151 pages long, has seven main parts: COVID-19 and fundamental rights, states against the pandemic, compensation for COVID-19 related damages, contract law, consumer law, labour and social law, and Coronavirus changing Europe.

In the first part, Verika Trstenjak addresses the most basic question on the coronacrisis and the fundamental rights in the European Union, according to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The author states that during the coronacrisis the exercise of some fundamental rights was so strongly limited that it cannot be taken for granted that all limitations were duly justified. Other authors analyze the constitutionality of the measures taken at the national level (in Italy, France, Poland and Ukraine), while two specific contributions address the questions of ownership of the data in coronavirus tracing apps and the impact of these apps in the data protection framework as originally regulated by the GDPR: health data are one of the clearest instances of personal data impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the subject mentioned are further developed in part 2 of the book. The main legal measures implemented were:

  • lockdowns and curfews;
  • quarantines for travellers;
  • face masks mandates;
  • closure of workplaces and teleworking (but for those essential establishments);
  • ban on public and private events.

Regardless of the implementation of other measures, vaccines were necessary tools to halt the pandemic’s deadly impact. In the European Union, as of September 2021, the vaccines “Comirnaty”, “Spikevax”, “Vaxzevria” and “COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen” have been produced, authorised by the European Medicines Agency and commercialised. Five other vaccines are under rolling review. Authorisation neither convalidate eventual harms caused by the vaccines, nor generate automatic liability of the public authorities involved in this process. It only removes an obstacle to the commercialization of the vaccine within the EU. This is clearly relevant in the revision of the many liability questions addressed in the book (e.g., and mostly in the seven chapters of Part 3).

The amount of commercialised vaccines and the vaccination rates are promising. As of 29 September 2021, 44.9% of the world population has been fully or partly vaccinated. However, the differences between the vaccination rates in developed and developing countries and its impact in putting an end to the COVID-19 nightmare are the real challenge: while in the European Union the population with at least one dose of the vaccines exceeds the 66% (or, in the specific Spanish case, more than 80.51% is partly or fully vaccinated), in countries like India or Thailand, the amount is below 50%, and in Uganda or Ethiopia, it does not even reach the 5%. This calls for a decision between seeking to fully vaccinate all citizens of a region or trying to partly vaccinate against COVID-19 people from both developed and developing countries.

Lockdowns, commercial closures, curfews, limitations on gatherings, mask mandates and border-crossing limitations differ strongly between EU countries and, surprisingly, among regions of the same country.

Parts 3 through 5 of the book cover Tort Law, contract law and consumer law issues related to coronavirus in the national systems. Most of the contributions relating the Law of Torts addressed whether States may be imposed liability for the way they managed the pandemic and the measures taken with such purpose.

Contract Law has been affected by the pandemic, and issues related to the doctrines of hardship, force majeure and change of circumstances have found here clear grounds for their application in jurisdictions opened to all or some of these doctrines. For this reason, Contract Law is addressed by twenty-five different contributions. Most of the co-authors are in favor of suspending performance of the contractual obligations, rather than the adapting or even terminating the contracts as a result of the impact of the pandemic in the performance and the impossibility to perform.

Part 6 of the book covers labour law and how the clear impact that the pandemic has had in the performance of labour contracts as a result of the lockdowns and the work-from-home mandates imposed by states worldwide. Nonetheless, the solutions taken by the different states have been diverse, but in most jurisdictions, suspension of the labour relationships when working from home was impossible has been accepted as a justified consequence of the pandemic, more so when the specific remedies provided by the authorities have accompanied such suspension (with social security benefits). In this respect, authors such as Misic and Strban have generally addressed the impact of COVID-19 in social security policies, and other contributions have analysed the specific measures taken by some national jurisdictions, such as Greece, Portugal, Estonia and Italy.

Finally, in Part 7, including the last four chapters of the edited volume, some questions such as how this pandemic has changed Europe and European legal systems are handled. It has to be underlined that the book is not just for European Union and European Union Member States law, but also on European legal systems alien to the European Union, such as is the case with the United Kingdom, now, and Russia.

This is one of the main features of the book, because it covers legal systems that are clearly European, and transcends the current frontiers of the European Union, by analyzing, the law in Europe, not only EU law. The volume is a toolbox for practitioners and provides to all of us with legal instruments that are undoubtedly useful, even essential, to assess the constitutionality and operativity of the discussed measures. That is to say, the book is not only useful to confront the end of the pandemic after the vaccination of Europeans, it also offers an extraordinary pool of devices to face future crises.

Posted by Pablo Salvador Coderch, Ignacio García-Perrote Martínez and Tomás Gabriel García-Micó (Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Barcelona)