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Defence of Democracy Package

The Defence of Democracy package, put forward on 12 December 2023, introduces

  • a Communication reviewing the work done under the European Democracy Action Plan
  • a legislative proposal to set up common transparency and accountability standards for interest representation activities seeking to influence the decision-making process in the Union that is carried out on behalf of third countries.
  • a recommendation to promote free, fair and resilient elections
  • a recommendation to promote the participation of citizens and civil society organisations in policy making

The common transparency standards aim to

  • protect the EU democratic sphere
  • promote institutional trust
  • protect an open public debate from covert interference

The aim is to achieve all of the above while ensuring full respect of fundamental rights and democratic values through proportionate policy intervention. To underpin the package, the Commission also published the results of a complementary Eurobarometer survey on Democracy

What is the European Democracy Action plan?

In 2020, the Commission adopted the European Democracy Action Plan to build more resilient democracies across the EU by

  • promoting free and fair elections
  • strengthening media freedom
  • countering disinformation

Meaningful and active citizen engagement and an active civil society were also cross-cutting priorities throughout the plan. In 2023 ahead of the next European elections, the Commission has reviewed the implementation of the action plan and identified a number of areas where the EU can be proactive in the face of existing and evolving challenges.

Find out how the Democracy Action Plan has been renewed in the Annex

European democracy action plan: empowered citizens and civil society

Protecting free and fair elections

Safeguarding our European democracy requires 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

Media freedom and pluralism

Media freedom and media pluralism are essential to our democracies and are enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Free and pluralistic media are key to holding power to account and to helping citizens make informed decisions. By providing the public with reliable information, independent media play an important role in the fight against disinformation and the manipulation of democratic debate. Improving the safety of journalists, protecting them from abusive litigation and improving the overall media pluralism landscape have been top priorities guiding EU action in this area:

  • In 2021, the Commission issued a Recommendation to strengthen the safety of journalists and other media professionals. Among others, it 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. 
  • In 2022, the Commission proposed new initiatives to improve the protection of journalists and human rights defenders from abusive court proceedings (SLAPPs). 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.
  • Also in 2022, the Commission proposed a new set of rules to protect media pluralism and independence in the EU under the European Media Freedom Act. 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.

Countering disinformation and foreign information manipulation and interference

Protecting Europe’s democracies from the threats and harmful effects of disinformation, information manipulation and interference, in particular from foreign actors, has been a priority of the EU in recent years. Democracies around the world are facing a proliferation of disinformation and foreign interference operations, which have the potential to destabilise democratic institutions and exacerbate societal divisions, undermining the trust of citizens. This is further exacerbated by digitalisation which allows for disinformation to be disseminated with unprecedented speed and efficiency.

Under the European Democracy Action Plan, the EU has stepped up its efforts to respond to this evolving threat landscape, both domestically and internationally. This builds on existing EU work and is firmly rooted in European values and principles. It safeguards the freedom of expression and people’s right to access legal content.

Key actions in this area include

  • strengthened cooperation, building on existing networks to coordinate EU action in response to increasing wave of disinformation campaigns
  • a reinforced EU toolbox to counter foreign information manipulation and interference (FIMI)
  • ensuring more accountability of online platforms to prevent the spread of disinformation through a strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation, setting a co-regulatory framework, in line with the Digital Services Act

Ensuring more accountability of online platforms

Following the guidance adopted by the Commission in 2021 on how to strengthen the existing EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, a new Code was signed in June 2022, bringing together both major and specialised online platforms, the online advertising industry, research and civil society, as well as fact-checkers. The Code sets out a broad range of commitments, from demonetisation to transparency to data access. Importantly, the Code comes with a solid monitoring framework and a Transparency Centre to ensure increased transparency and accountability.

It also sets a co-regulatory framework in line with the Digital Services Act (DSA), which obliges very large online platforms and search engines to regularly assess the systemic risks their services may present to society, including the risk of their services being misused as  a tool for disinformation campaigns.

Inclusive civic engagement and participation for European democratic resilience

Strengthening the links between people and the democratic institutions that represent them is the bedrock for democratic resilience. Creating a civic space for the engagement and participation of citizens and civil society organisations in policy making processes are an essential guarantee for the resilience of our democracies, whether at election time or beyond.

Under the European Democracy Action Plan, this was a cross-cutting priority. The Conference on the Future of Europe provided a valuable experience on how to strengthen citizen engagement, leading to a new phase of citizen participation with European Citizens Panels now embedded in the European Commission’s policy-making process.

Funding for democracy

The Commission continues to mobilise dedicated funding from a wide range of available EU Programmes to support the measures and goals of the European Democracy Action Plan.

Some examples of these funding streams include 

  • promoting election integrity, boosting citizen participation, civic engagement and trust in democracy, through funding from the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values programme; Creative Europe; Erasmus+; and Horizon Europe, Cohesion funds
  • strengthening funding to news media organisations within the EU and beyond, through funding from Creative Europe; Digital Europe; Global Europe Human Rights and Democracy Programme
  • fighting disinformation with the view to promoting media literacy and helping citizens identify disinformation through funding from Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps

To facilitate the navigation through different programmes the Commission has put in place an easily accessible portal which acts as a single gateway for Union funds and allows to find democracy related funding opportunities among others.

Related initiatives



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