'Threats and intimidation should have no place in Europe'
August 18, 2020
In response to growing threats to democracy and rule of law, European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová has been given the values and transparency portfolio, including media freedom. She talks to DW about her role.
You recently tweeted that a resilient and critical society is what we need to fight against disinformation. What is your approach to enable EU citizens to better deal with disinformation?
Lying is not new, nor that scary. What scares me is that we believe in lies too easily. We need to become more resilient and critical as a society, especially in the online world. We need to support free and independent media, the fact-checkers and researchers.
We are calling on member states to ensure that journalists can work in the right conditions and to make the most of our recovery package to support the media while respecting their independence. The Commission has been working on initiatives, in terms of funding and legislation. We are in close cooperation with member states, in particular education and media ministers, with schools, researchers and civil organizations and with the private sector.
What role does media literacy play in this context?
Media literacy is key to make our society more resilient. The media landscape is changing. Now with social media, everyone can create content. It’s difficult to fully understand who created what and for whom. Yet, we see that scammers and foreign governments use this confusion to divide us and spread false information. In the Commission, we support media literacy. For instance, we have an initiative called “Media Literacy for All” to support, with 2.25 million euros of EU funding, actions bringing media organizations, schools, researchers and fact-checkers together. One funded action is called “YouCheck!” and it develops a toolbox for classrooms which includes an application for verifying if a photo or video has been manipulated.
How do you judge the recent developments in Hungary and Poland and what specific approaches are you taking to ensure that fundamental rights are upheld according to European values?
The European Union is a community of values based on three pillars: democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights. As a person born in authoritarian Czechoslovakia, I can tell you that having those values enshrined in the Treaties is a real achievement. But indeed, recently we see a worrying trend not only in the countries you mentioned. The European Commission has developed a rule of law toolbox, a set of instruments to address challenges for the rule of law. We already work to promote a common rule of law culture across the member states. We are using also all legal instruments at our disposal to uphold the rule of law in the EU. This includes infringement procedures. And we also have Article 7 that reaches its limits.
This is why we need more tools. We have to strengthen a preventive arm. In September, we will publish the first annual rule of law report which will include all EU member states. I also fully support the rule of law conditionality for EU funds. We are now in a hot moment of EU budget negotiations and I believe this would be a strong guarantee that the money that goes to the State in question is there for the benefit of all people, not only some.
A group of European MEPs has been calling on the EU Commission to promote an anti-SLAPP EU directive to counter the attempts at silencing journalists. Are there any plans to create such a directive?
I am worried about the working conditions of journalists. The threats and intimidation should have no place in Europe. I made a promise to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family to better protect journalists in Europe. We are conducting a mapping of the possible situations of abuse of litigation against journalists to determine the best way forward. The European Democracy Action Plan, to be adopted by the end of this year, will also include our suggestions on how to tackle SLAPP matters. Journalists and civil society organizations should use their expertise and time in being the needed watchdogs for our democracies, not in fighting abusive litigation. The support of the member states will be crucial in this endeavor, because on the European level we have limited competences to act.
What do you plan to achieve during your term at the European Commission in your current role as Vice-President for Values and Transparency?
My goals are to make Europe more democratic and transparent, more aware and resilient against new threats, including digital ones and more capable of defending the values we cherish, including the rule of law, media freedom and pluralism. The European Democracy Action Plan will be a first major step. It aims at improving the resilience of democracies and address the threats of external interference in European elections. It will help counter disinformation, support free and independent media as well as civil society.
Secondly, I want to build a rule-of-law culture based on mutual respect. We should prioritize dialogue and prevent crisis situations from happening, but equally, we have to address problems where they exist.
The third pillar of my tasks is fundamental rights. Fundamental rights are key to what makes Europe the place we love to live in: inclusion for all, equality for all, security for all, a human-centric digital transformation. Europe is also best-placed to finally put some balanced rules on digital sphere, including fair taxation, more transparency, responsibility and accountability of the big digital players. This mandate will define if we will continue to be the rule-makers or we will become the rule-takers.