Press Room

High level conference ‘Greater resilience to ensure free and fair elections’, organised in Brussels by the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU

While counting down to the May 2019 European elections, the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU, with the support of the European Security and Defence College and the Council of the EU, and at the initiative of Alina Bârgăoanu, member of the High -Level Group on fake news and online disinformation, hosted on 1 April in Brussels a high level conference on the necessity for ‘Greater resilience to ensure free and fair elections’. The event took place at a special time, as we celebrate this spring 40 years since the first direct European-wide electoral process, in 1979.

The particular focus of the event was on the domestic dimension of resilience. The debate was opened to media, civil society, experts, member states delegates, EU institutions, focusing on exchanging good practices and discussing the state of play of measures taken to protect European elections. The composition of the panels reflected the belief that such an important topic can only be tackled with the cooperation of representatives of all EU institutions, of mainstream media and press agencies, fact-checkers, digital platforms, digital entrepreneurs, cyber security experts, academia and NGOs. It goes beyond ensuring proper regulation is in place, it is about positively affecting the fabric of society so that it inoculates itself against the harms of disinformation. Thus, media and digital literacy are crucial aspects of the fight and rightfully placed in the centre of the discussion. Because of the speed and proliferation of disinformation, fact-checking and institutional communication products can only do so much. Citizens must be empowered and educated to be able to distinguish good sources from bogus ones, to do the basic fact checking themselves. 

Efforts such as The Action Plan against Disinformation, the Conclusions of the Council on securing free and fair European elections, adopted in February, during the Romanian Presidency of the EU Council, and the Code of Practice against Disinformation set the essential guidelines for our common action. However, there is still work to be done ahead of the May elections and this event offered a chance to check in with the state of play in fighting disinformation, as well as to discuss issues such as media literacy programmes, the code of practice as implemented by platforms, preserving media freedom and others.

The speakers highlighted the fact that democratic values must be the basis for creating a strategy to overcome vulnerabilities to disinformation and fake news, to electoral interference and to the impact of new technologies on societies. Media freedom and the freedom of expression cannot be sacrificed in the fight against disinformation. Another takeaway was thus the reaffirmed commitment to striking the right balance between democratic values and regulation (or self-regulation), as well as a call for a combination of debunking and promotion of positive narratives. From a EU perspective, that means transparency about what the EU does for its citizens and stepping up efforts to communicate directly to the citizens in a way that brings the institutions closer to the people.

The panels benefited from live streaming, which can be accessed here.

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