Speaking at the forum talk "Strengthening democracy in the 21st century", Patrick Costello, Head of EEAS Division working on Democracy and Electoral Observation, was joined by other representatives from media and civil society in discussing the role of information in democratic processes. What are the right ways to protect the freedoms that come with more access to information, while at the same time limiting the risks that go along with them? What is the role of the EU in safeguarding democracy and inspiring more trust in governments, institutions and media?
“Democracy is not something that can be taken for granted,” emphasized Costello. There are new challenges today, which did not exist a decade ago, also related to the online world. There is a lower trust in institutions, political polarization, different kinds of manipulation and disinformation especially during electoral campaigns. Societies, in which trust in democratic institutions is weaker, are the most vulnerable.
“These are challenges that we are facing across the globe, but it is vital that as Europeans we do not only focus on how to protect the integrity of our own democracies. We need to work with other partners to protect democracy globally. Democracy is a universal commitment stemming from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For the EU supporting democracy externally is a central pillar of our Treaties,” Costello highlighted. “Beyond values, it is in the EU’s interest to support democracy externally, because of the impact that work has on the EU’s other foreign policy objectives including rules-based multilateralism, peace and security, development and a rights-based approach to migration.”
In the recently adopted EU Council Conclusions on democracy the Member States recognized both the urgency of action and the need for this to be more than a technocratic exercise, or a policy through a budget line. “It is one that requires political engagement and commitment from our political leadership,” Costello said.
The three days of discussions at the World Forum for Democracy further examined democracy from various angles, from youth participation, women empowerment and an enabling media environment.
Photo credit: Council of Europe