The European Council has announced its conclusions on implementing “free and fair” practice in the approaching European Parliament elections.
The conclusions, adopted on Tuesday, come in the wake of the publication of the European Commission’s report package “Securing Free and Fair European Elections” in September 2018 and the Commission and High Representative’s Joint Action Plan against Disinformation in December 2018; both of which laid out proposals to protect the elections – now less than 100 days away – from cyberattacks, disinformation and other unwarranted interference.
The Council recommended a number of non-legislative actions to protect the integrity of the elections, due to take place in May 2019; including:
- Regular meetings of the European election cooperation network and the establishment of a Rapid Alert System whereby Member States can share resources and information on identifying threats;
- Deploying a network of independent researchers and fact-checkers across Member States to identify and refute disinformation on social media and digital news sources;
- Promoting and endorsing higher levels of digital and media literacy among the EU electorate;
- In collaboration with the private and civil sectors, implementing programmes to raise awareness of disinformation and electoral interference;
- Devising measures to combat online threats to the democratic and electoral processes;
- Encouraging private sector businesses to invest in regulation of online activities related to the elections “in a responsible and accountable manner”; and
- Examining further options for international cooperation in the fight against disinformation.
George Ciamba, Romanian Minister Delegate for European Affairs, said: “A core element of the democratic nature of the EU is that citizens should be able to vote in a well-informed and safe manner. The Council conclusions adopted today will help ensure that there is a coordinated approach by members states and the EU institutions to protect the democratic process from manipulation and interference, both from internal and external actors.”
The Council emphasised that any action taken to counter disinformation in the election cycle should respect citizens’ fundamental rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression and association. Its conclusions, however, noted that the 2019 elections were likely to be particularly subject to malicious campaigns of disinformation and online attacks; and that EU bodies needed to work together with Member States’ authorities and the private sector in order to ensure a free and fair democratic process.