George Ciamba, Romanian Minister Delegate for European Affairs has said that 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 today adopted conclusions on securing free and fair European elections.
With less than a hundred days left until the European elections in May 2019, the conclusions set out the Council’s response to a broad range of threats to ensuring free and fair European elections, based on lessons learnt so far.
The conclusions follow the presentation of the Commission’s ‘Securing Free and Fair European Elections’ package in September 2018, as well as the publication of the Joint Action Plan against Disinformation by the Commission and the High Representative in December 2018. Those initiatives set out a comprehensive approach to protect the 2019 European elections from interference such as disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks from inside and outside the EU.
In its conclusions, the Council calls for a number of non-legislative actions to be taken in the coming months, such as:
- organising regular meetings of the European election cooperation network, at which member states can share expertise and good practices and can jointly identify threats;
- setting up a Rapid Alert System where national contact points in member states can share information rapidly on disinformation campaigns;
- enhancing strategic communication on European values and policies;
- strengthening the European media ecosystem, for instance by facilitating the establishment of a network of multidisciplinary independent fact-checkers and academic researchers to detect and expose disinformation across different social networks and digital media;
- increasing citizens’ resilience by promoting and supporting media and digital literacy;
- promoting awareness-raising activities to protect the integrity of the electoral process, together with the private sector and civil society;
- assessing cyber threats in the electoral context and envisaging measures to address them and preserve the integrity of the electoral system;
- calling on the private sector to invest in resources to deal with election-related online activities in a responsible and accountable manner;
- exploring options for further cooperation with relevant international actors.
The Council stresses that the Union is founded on the values of respect for democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights. It underlines that pan-European cooperation and a comprehensive approach are necessary steps in ensuring the electoral security and legitimacy of the 2019 European elections. Such an approach should respect the fundamental rights to freedom of association at all levels, and to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference from public authorities.
The 2019 European elections will take place in a context where disinformation campaigns and malicious cyber activities, including attacks on the electoral infrastructure, could be increasingly used to interfere in and influence the outcome of elections.
The comprehensive approach therefore requires a wide range of actors, including the European Commission, the European External Action Service, member states and the private sector to take action in order to protect the democratic process from foreign and domestic manipulation.