In a healthy and thriving democracy, citizens can freely express their views, choose their political leaders, and have a say about their future.
Democracy in the EU faces challenges from rising extremism, election interference, the spread of manipulative information and threats against journalists.
Citizens should be able to make electoral choices in a public space where different views can be expressed freely. Free media, academia and civil society should be able to play their role in stimulating open debate, free from malign interference, either foreign or domestic.
What is the European Democracy Action plan?
The European Democracy Action Plan is designed to empower citizens and build more resilient democracies across the EU by
- promoting free and fair elections
- strengthening media freedom
- countering disinformation
These measures will be implemented throughout this Commission’s mandate. In 2023, a year ahead of the next European elections, the Commission will review the implementation of the action plan.
Protecting free and fair elections
Safeguarding our European democracy requires more determined action to protect electoral processes. This means keeping elections free and fair, preserving open democratic debate, and updating digital safeguards.
Key actions in this area include
- proposing legislation to ensure greater transparency in the area of sponsored political content (‘political advertising’), accompanied by support measures and guidance for political parties and Member States
- proposing a revision of the Regulation on the funding of European political parties
- setting up a new joint operational mechanism through the European Cooperation Network on Elections to support the deployment of joint expert teams and to work closely with the NIS (security of information systems) Cooperation Group to counter threats to electoral processes
- measures to protect elections and electoral infrastructure against threats, including against cyber-attacks
EU structural funds should be used to fund civil society and build capacity and institutional/administrative infrastructure for civic engagement and political participation. EU funds should be used to foster access to democratic participation and trust in democracy. Funds and opportunities should be used as part of
- the EU youth strategy
- citizenship education
- the Creative Europe Programme
- the equality agenda
European Media Freedom Act
On 16 September 2022, the European Commission presented the European Media Freedom Act, a new set of rules to protect media pluralism and independence in the EU.
The European Media Freedom Act will ensure that media – public and private – can operate more easily across borders in the EU internal market, without undue pressure. It also takes the digital transformation of the media space into account.
The Commission also proposed to set up a new independent European Board for Media Services comprised of national media authorities. The Board will promote the effective and consistent application of the EU media law framework, particularly by issuing guidelines on media regulatory matters.
Media freedom and pluralism
On 27 April 2022, the European Commission started taking action to improve the protection of journalists and human rights defenders from abusive court proceedings. Strategic lawsuits against public participation, commonly known as ‘SLAPPs', are a particular form of harassment used primarily against journalists and human rights defenders to prevent or penalise speaking up on issues of public interest.
The proposed Directive covers SLAPPs in civil matters with cross-border implications. It enables judges to swiftly dismiss manifestly unfounded lawsuits against journalists and human rights defenders. It also establishes several procedural safeguards and remedies, such as compensation for damages, and dissuasive penalties for launching abusive lawsuits.
At the same time, the Commission also adopted a complementary Recommendation to encourage Member States to align their rules with the proposed EU law for domestic cases and in all proceedings, not only civil matters. The Recommendation also calls on Member States to take a range of other measures, such as training and awareness raising, to fight against SLAPPs.
Safety of journalists
On 16 September 2021, the Commission presented its first-ever Recommendation to strengthen the safety of journalists and other media professionals.
Journalists have been facing an increasing number of attacks over the past years, including assassinations in the most tragic cases. The COVID-19 crisis has made their work even more difficult, with lower incomes, especially for freelancers, and limited access to venues.
To reverse this trend, the Commission lays down actions for Member States to improve the safety of journalists – offline and online. Among others, the Recommendation calls for the creation of independent national support services, including helplines, legal advice, psychological support and shelters for journalists and media professionals facing threats. It also calls for an increased protection of journalists during demonstrations, greater online safety and particular support to female journalists.
Democracies around the world are facing a proliferation of false information, which may have the potential to destabilise their democratic institutions, and undermine the trust of citizens. To address misinformation, disinformation and foreign interference, different policy responses are required.
The European Democracy Action Plan sets out a comprehensive response, building on existing EU work and firmly rooted in European values and principles. It safeguards the freedom of expression and people’s right to access legal content.
To step up the fight against disinformation, the Commission will
- improve the EU’s existing toolbox for countering foreign interference in our information space, including new instruments that allow imposing costs on perpetrators
- steer efforts to overhaul the Code of Practice on Disinformation into a co-regulatory framework of obligations and accountability of online platforms, in line with the upcoming Digital Services Act
- issue guidance to enhance the Code of Practice in spring 2021 and set up a more robust framework for monitoring its implementation
Results of the public consultation
Between 15 July and 18 September 2020, the Commission conducted a Public Consultation.
Citizens, civil society and stakeholders were invited to share their experience and expectations for future initiatives in three areas: integrity of elections, media freedom and pluralism, and tackling disinformation.
Results showed support for EU action in all three domains – mainly calling to
- increase transparency of targeted political content
- increase the safety of journalists and other media actors
- enhance EU and Member States capacity to counter disinformation
- empower citizens to make informed decisions, notably through education and increased media literacy
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