Four years from the next European elections, the Commission is taking the pulse of European democracy: the patient is still alive, but complications have been piling up for years. The diagnosis ? Rise of populist fever, massive abstention, authoritarian abuses, manipulation of information on the Internet including by foreign powers, assassination of journalists (such as Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Malta) and difficulty of the profession by abusive trials… ” Democracy cannot be taken for granted, ”warns Vera Jourova, Commissioner for Transparency and Values.
From 2021, new rules will be introduced on political advertising and the funding rules for European political parties will be revised. Since the Treaty of Nice (2003), European parties have been eligible for community funds. In Article 224 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), it is provided that “the European Parliament and the Council, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, establish by means of regulations the statute of political parties in the European level (…) and in particular the rules relating to their financing ”.
European political parties financed by lobbies
However, European political parties are the prey of lobbies. They can receive donations from companies in a perfectly legal manner notwithstanding the ethical issues this poses. The scandal erupted last year when it was learned that the Alde (the centrist and liberal party which preceded Renew) had received, for the year 2018 alone, 122,000 euros from eight major groups and lobbies and that they paid an entrance fee to speak at the party’s annual convention or at conferences. Among the sponsors, Google (15,000 euros), the Bayer group (18,000 euros), Deloitte, or the food lobby Fooddrink… This sponsorship is still legal and recorded in a public register. In 2020, the ECR group (the conservatives and reformists in Europe) thus received 13,424 euros from the firm ATT or 17,500 euros from Milano Business Consulting.
Commissioner Jourova intends to set up a congress on democracy next year, also inviting the national electoral regulatory authorities to reflect on new sources of destabilization of the electoral process. Among these, the electoral microtargeting at the origin of the Cambridge Analytica scandal which may have contributed to influencing the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. “I want to limit the microtargeting criteria. The promotion of political ideas should not be treated the same as the promotion of products, says Commissioner Jourova. We will do an appropriate impact assessment next year and come back with the solutions and the third quarter of 2021. ”
Women journalists targeted by trolls
Freedom of the press is not doing well either. “Since the start of 2020, at least a hundred journalists have been attacked during protests in eleven member states,” she notes. In about two-thirds of the cases, the source of the threat came from the protesters themselves. In approximately one third of the incidents, the source of the threat was police. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition, 73% of women journalists in the world have been victims of online violence in the course of their work, according to a survey by Unesco / ICJF.
The Commission will propose a recommendation for the protection of journalists, in consultation with the Member States and professionals. At the same time, it will take an initiative against abusive lawsuits against the press. At the time of her assassination in Malta, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was facing 47 pending lawsuits, both in Malta and abroad… “Journalists should spend their time doing their jobs and not dealing with unfounded disputes. », Considers Vera Jourova who points to a problem which is only growing.
Stepping up the fight against online manipulation
Finally, the Commission will take steps to make media ownership transparent, in particular by supporting the Media Ownership Monitor, an independent study that will look into media ownership and the conflict of interest issues it sometimes raises. The European budget will devote more funds (at least 75 million euros) to support cross-border investigations.
Read also Amazon, Google, Facebook: “Dismantling is not a taboo”
As for foreign interference in the information sphere, it is particularly critical in this period of pandemic. China has remade the history of the virus to give itself the good role and minimize its responsibility. False remedies sold on the Internet present health risks. Twitter suspended 2.5 million accounts in August 2020 as part of the guidelines relating to Covid-19. While the platforms have undertaken to comply with a code of good practice, it appeared necessary to strengthen it. This will be done in the spring of 2021. The DSA (Digital Services Acts) regulation that Thierry Breton will present on December 15 will considerably put online platforms under surveillance by imposing on them monitoring obligations and rapid removal of illegal content, under penalty of sanctions. . Anonymity will be preserved on social networks and it will still be possible to register under a pseudonym. But the platforms will have to know the identity of their subscribers and will have the obligation to reveal to the legal authorities the identities of the troublemakers on the Net. In addition, the Commission will audit algorithms that tend to push hateful content.
Thierry Breton will propose sanctions
“First of all, we cannot forget that everyone is responsible for what they say or what they do, whether in the physical world or online, said Thierry Breton in an interview with the Point. The civil or criminal liability of individuals or organizations does not change. What will change with the DSA are the responsibilities of these actors who, for example, amplify the messages and make them, as they say, viral. Obviously, this responsibility must increase in proportion to their influence on users, on the market. The audience thresholds will be well calibrated, do not doubt it. The actors will have an obligation to equip themselves with efficient and rapid systems for the removal of illegal content. Otherwise, they will face sanctions. “