The recommendations are an endorsement of the European Democracy Action Plan presented by the European Commission in December 2020, which sets out a range of initiatives – often of a non-legislative nature – intended to protect and develop European democracy in a digital era. The CoR, however, faulted the plan for not emphasising enough the potential contribution of local and regional authorities to improving the health of European democracy.
Addressing members of the CoR at their plenary session on 30 June, Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, welcomed the opinion by the CoR, saying: "Democracy cannot be taken for granted. The digital age requires us to review how to promote and protect democracy. It needs a whole-of-society approach and international cooperation: in a coordinated effort of governments, including local and regional authorities, civil society, researchers and fact-checkers, private sector, media and citizens themselves. I welcome the input of the Committee of the Regions on the European Democracy Action Plan and ideas about how local and regional authorities can engage their citizens, keep elections free and fair, strengthen media, and counter disinformation. We offer also funding opportunities which support the translation of policy into action on the local and regional level, such as currently opened calls for proposals for Town-Twinning and Networks of Towns under the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values programme."
Vasco Cordeiro (PT/PES), First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions and Member of the Regional Parliament of the Azores, said: "Our Union can only be a Union of shared and respected values. Local and regional authorities, as well as their elected leaders, have an important role to play not only to safeguard and respect democracy, but to promote it. Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights: these are not only the values on which our Union is founded, but a very clear way of assessing if, in each and every community or country across Europe, deeds follow words."
Aleksandra Dulkiewicz (PL/EPP), mayor of Gdańsk and the CoR's rapporteur on European Democracy Action Plan, said: "Civic education for democracy is the vaccine for the survival of our European community of values. We must not allow the deterioration of civil rights and freedoms in the EU Member States. When civil rights and freedoms in one Member State deteriorate, this has a real and negative effect on the condition of democracy across the European family and poses a risk to our European values. Local and regional authorities, as those closest to the citizens, should play a subjective role in the process of supporting democracy, freedom and civic participation. In Gdańsk, a city of freedom and solidarity, we are drafting the Gdańsk Model of Civic Education, which is guided by the teaching of critical thinking and civic responsibility."
The CoR's proposals, which see the European Democracy Action Plan as part of a "process of creating a new democratic infrastructure", highlight the importance of cultivating an on-going debate about freedom of expression on the internet and the importance of taking preventive measures to tackle disinformation, hate speech, and conspiracy theories. The CoR supports a prize named after Ms Dulkiewicz's predecessor, Paweł Adamowicz, who was murdered in 2019. The Paweł Adamowicz Award promotes social inclusion, equal opportunities and respect for human rights and civil liberties.
Among other proposals is a call for the EU to help build up the institutional and administrative capacity and structures needed to promote public participation in political life, with access to funds being made as straightforward as possible and with funds managed as much as possible by local and regional authorities.
CoR members also adopted an opinion on an initiative launched by the European Commission that is related to the European Democracy Action Plan, a strategy to strengthen the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU. The opinion, which was drawn up by Jean-Luc Vanraes (BE/RE) of Uccle Municipal Council, endorses the European Commission's strategy, and urges it to "systematically perform a cross-check against the application of the Charter prior to granting EU funds", arguing that the Union's values "should constitute a conditionality for eligibility for EU funds".
Mr Vanraes said: "On 18 December 2000, the EU Member States signed, with enthusiasm, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The promotion and safeguarding of these rights is an essential task of the European Commission. I therefore ask that the Commission use all legal and financial means at its disposal to fulfil this mission."
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