Highlights from the Ceipa Conference on “The Mantra of Rule of Law”

Highlights from the Ceipa Conference on

“The Mantra of Rule of Law: Will the Conditionality in dispersing Substantial EU Funding Improve Freedom of the Press and Democracy?”

 

Zoom conference 16th December 2020.

For CV’s of the panelists and background for the conference, please refer to this article

The rule of law being the fundamental value of the European Union and the threats to the rule of law disable the proper functioning of the European Union.

Six highly respected panelists including parliamentarian, former parliamentarian, former high level European officials, academics, civil right activists, editors and investigative journalists participated in a lively CEIPA video conference. They provided their point of views on the state of play of the freedom of press and rule of law across the European Union. Their insights, statements and judgements gave a valuable contribution assessing democracy, rule of law, pluralism and freedom of expression in 2020 in the European Union.

The European Union is under attack and siege by populism, nationalism, corruption, nepotism and opaque links between politicians, industry and financial moguls, all whilst struggling with the challenges caused by the changing architecture of the world power structure. It is now time for the European Union, its leaders and institutions to show integrity, determination and devotion to protect and fight for the common values and principles laid down in the provisions of the Treaty of the European Union.

Despite the fact that the freedom of press is guaranteed by all EU Member States’ constitutions, some governments have curtailed this fundamental freedom by using the media as an instrument for political pressure and manipulation of public opinion. Whereas the situation is more critical in some east central European countries, the majority of EU member countries, even those with a high degree of freedom of press, need to be carefully monitored as well.

The digitalisation of media coverage combined with the overwhelming domination of Google, Facebook and other social media outlets endangers the work of journalists by the selling of their privacy, the buying of their information and then the selling of it for the purpose of advertising. On the other hand, investigative journalism is undermined and side-lined for the benefit of sensational news which per its definition attracts a larger share of public engagement and yields greater financial gains. In the same token local and regional press are fighting for their existence due to smaller revenues and often being taken over by financial conglomerates and/or governments aiming at increasing the control over the press.

Critical and objective journalism, investigative journalism, as well as local and national press in a number of countries are under severe pressure and need transnational European support by the European Union. The world index, carefully compiled each year by the Reporters without Borders, monitors freedom of press in terms of pluralism, independence, legislative framework, abuses, attacks against journalists and reporters. It rated at least 25% of EU member States as grossly violating these principles. Judicial cases into wide scale harassment and the killing of journalists in EU member states during the past years are still not being terminated with clear verdicts, clear indictments and the appropriate policies to follow them up. The institutions of the European Union currently play a minor if not totally marginal role in defending free independent press and journalists in the member states of the European Union.

Is the European Commissions’ new EU Democracy Action Plan – envisaging a 61 Million euro budget made available for protecting free press – going to effectively prevent curtailment of and pressure on independent journalism and protect journalists in the European Union who are investigating corruption, misuse of funds and political power? Is the recent report by the EC reviewing the rule of law, independence of judiciary and freedom of press in the 27 EU member states the right tool in both form and quality for decision makers?

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said: “Democracy cannot be taken for granted; it needs to be nurtured and protected. Our plan aims at protecting and promoting meaningful participat