European Union External Action

Human rights and democracy: a new Action Plan for new challenges

25/03/2020 - 11:09
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In a rapidly changing world, shifting geopolitical landscapes, climate change, environmental degradation and the digital transition, pose unquestionable challenges to human rights and democracy. However, new technologies also offer the potential to trigger positive transformation towards more democratic and inclusive societies.

The EU is determined to embrace these new opportunities, to address new challenges and step up its leading role in the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the right to health and basic services worldwide. These are principles that are part of the EU’s DNA. That’s why the European Commission has adopted a new Action Plan on human rights and democracy, an ambitious roadmap to make the world a more just, pluralistic and safe place.

Crisis situations, as the one we are living with the Coronavirus’ pandemic, pose particular challenges to the effective exercise and protection of human rights, and put the functioning of our democracies to the test. This is an opportunity for Europe to stand up for its values and interests”, said the High Representative and Vice President of the Commission Josep Borrell, who signed the Action Plan.

The Action Plan identifies key priorities contributing to a common goal: addressing challenges and building a strategic culture based on human rights and democracy, the backbone of resilient societies.

  • Protecting and empowering individuals
  • Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies
  • Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy
  • Harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges of new technologies
  • Delivering by working together.

Behind these objectives, there is a geopolitical agenda that aims to strengthen the cooperation and the synergies with bilateral and multilateral partners, civil society and the business community to address together old and new challenges.

Under the previous Action Plan, the EU made significant achievements in  protecting, defending and strengthening fundamental rights across the world: over the last five years more than 30.000 human rights defenders were protected; death penalty executions decreased by 58%; the EU observed elections in more than 60 countries contributing to strengthening democratic institutions and building public confidence in electoral processes; and clauses to respect human rights and labour conventions were systematically included in EU  trade agreements.

Nonetheless, current figures show the need for further action in the global landscape. In 2019 alone, 300 human rights defenders were killed, 79 countries still have the death penalty and some 70 countries consider same sex relations as a crime, to name just a few examples. On top of this, democracy is backsliding and civic space is shrinking across the world.

Against this backdrop, the new Action Plan aims to:

  • reinforce the means to protect and empower human rights defenders;
  • promote women’s rights and gender equality;
  • strengthen the work with independent media, parliaments and civil society at large to counter the misuse of new technologies and the shrinking of civic and democratic space;
  • address the link between environmental challenges and human rights, and advances rights to health, food, water, education;
  • seize the opportunities and tackle the challenges posed by new technologies such as artificial intelligence;
  • protect and strengthen media freedom;
  • invest in strategic communication and public diplomacy to join up forces around the world.

The new approach refers not only to the content but also to the working methods within the EU that will greatly improve effectiveness and rapidity in the decision making process. In a recommendation presented alongside the plan, the HR/VP Borrell has proposed that the Plan is adopted by the European Council as its own decision on the strategic interest and objectives of the Union. This could pave the way for the use of qualified majority voting on future acts to implement the Action Plan.

We need the courage and ambition to tackle challenges together. Today, we propose an ambitious plan to defend human rights and democracy all over the world by using all our resources faster and more effectively”, said Borrell.

The Plan will now be transmitted to the Council for adoption, and to the European Parliament.

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