Across the world, people continue to demonstrate, often at great personal risk, their desire for democracy. From Hong Kong to Lebanon, Belarus to Sudan, behind the headlines and numbers are brave and courageous people from all backgrounds. We pay tribute to them and share their commitment to democracy.
Democracy is facing challenges, which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, civil liberties are being eroded, independent media and journalists repressed, and democratic institutions undermined. Polarisation is rising, as people's trust in democratic institutions and practices falters. While new opportunities for political participation have emerged, we witness the far-reaching impact of new forms of manipulation of information and electoral and democratic processes, intensified by digital technology and social media.
In light of these challenges, the European Union is redoubling its efforts to support those who are working to defend and build democracy, to encourage democratic participation and inclusion regardless of gender or background, to ensure institutional checks and balances, and to hold decision makers to account. We take a leading role in promoting and protecting democracy around the world.
The new ‘Action Plan Human Rights and Democracy' sets out our ambitions and identifies priorities for concrete external action for the years to come. From cooperation involving former enemies in Colombia to restoring faith in justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo, empowering media in Central Asia and strengthening the role of women in Syria, the EU continues to actively support democratic values and initiatives through our projects and cooperation. In 2019, the EU deployed eight election observation missions and seven election expert missions as part of its commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law across the world.
While Europe supports its partners facing the new challenges to democracy worldwide, the work starts from home. We understand that our European citizens' belief in democracy cannot and should not ever be taken for granted. Our citizens have been asking for greater participation in policy-making, and have been asking for transparency. We must listen and we must build trust.
The EU is taking steps to safeguard and strengthen democracy inside our Union. We are working on a European Democracy Action Plan to counter disinformation, adapt to evolving electoral threats and manipulations, as well as support free and independent media in the EU. The upcoming Citizenship Report will look at how to ensure that all EU citizens can fully exercise their rights and participate in the democratic life of the Union. The ‘Conference on the Future of Europe', bringing together Europeans from all walks of life, will give Europeans a stronger voice in our Union.
The European Union is founded on a strong engagement to promote and protect democracy, alongside human rights and the rule of law. Without democracy, peace and stability, long-term development and prosperity cannot exist. We must continue to be its trailblazers.