The European Commission’s annual Fundamental Rights Colloquium, which runs from Monday 26 to Tuesday 27 November, has taken the theme this year of “Democracy in the EU”.
The Fundamental Rights Colloquium, held in Brussels, will focus on ways to encourage free, open democratic engagement in the face of growing voter disaffection and potential election interference. Representatives of politics, business, civil society, media, education, law and other fields will participate in discussions and debates on the future of democracy in the EU.
The theme of the Fundamental Rights Colloquium reflects the impending European elections in May 2019; delegates will discuss ways to maximise voter engagement and ensure the elections remain fair and free from outside influence. The effect of fake news and propaganda on democracy in the EU will be examined, as will the opportunities and challenges posed by digitalism to fair, pluralistic democratic debate. The event will also cover ways to make the democratic process more inclusive.
In the months leading up to to the Fundamental Rights Colloquium, Eurobarometer, the European Commission’s public opinion survey series, polled Europeans’ expectations for the May elections. Respondents were asked about their hopes and fears for the elections and factors that might affect their voting intentions: 61 per cent expressed concern about the manipulation of election results through cyberattacks, while 59 per cent were concerned that foreign actors or criminal groups could attempt to influence democracy in the EU.
67 per cent of respondents were worried that their personal data would be used to target political advertising; and 73 per cent were worried that the proliferation of misinformation online could adversely affect democracy in the EU – a topic due to be covered extensively by the Fundamental Rights Colloquium. 81 per cent thought websites and social media providers should make the provenance of political and targeted advertising clear. There was broad support for imposing the same rules on new media which already apply to traditional media in the lead up to elections, including applying equal coverage of parties, giving candidates a right of reply and observing “silence periods” just before elections.
Vĕra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: “This survey confirms that Europeans know that the upcoming elections will not be business as usual. They expect actions that will guarantee fair and secure elections and more information about [democracy in the EU] and new faces in politics. We are fighting against illegal data manipulation, countering disinformation and make our elections more resilient. But we also need the full involvement of EU governments and all political parties. We can only address peoples’ concerns if we do this together.”