The European Commission dedicates its annual Fundamental Rights Colloquium to “Democracy in the EU” at a time when Europeans worry about interference in elections.

A new Eurobarometer survey published today sheds light on the expectations of Europeans for the May 2019 European elections and what would motivate them to cast their vote. It also shows that a majority of EU citizens are worried that disinformation campaigns, data breaches and cyberattacks will interfere with electoral processes.

The 2018 annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights is bringing together politicians, researchers, journalists, NGOs and activists to discuss how to make our democracies more resilient and inclusive, how to support civil society and better safeguard free and fair elections.

“Our research shows that people are really worried about disinformation. The good thing is that more and more citizens are critical of the information they are offered, and well aware of the dark forces that would like to manipulate what they read, think and ultimately vote for. For the legitimacy of our European democracy it is essential that citizens use their right to vote. And that’s why we all, EU institutions and Member States, must protect our elections and bolster our democracy,” Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission.

“This survey confirms that Europeans know that the upcoming elections will not be business as usual. They expect actions that will guarantee fair and secure elections and more information about the EU and new faces in politics. We are fighting  against illegal data manipulation, countering disinformation and make our elections more resilient. But we also need the full involvement of EU governments and all political parties. We can only address peoples’ concerns if we do this together,” added Vĕra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

What Europeans want ahead of European elections

42 % of Europeans went to the polls for the 2014 European elections. The figures published today indicate what could bring more Europeans to vote:

43 % of the respondents would like to receive more information on the EU and its impact on their daily lives;

31 % want more young people standing as candidates.

The Juncker Commission has been working actively on bringing the EU closer to its citizens. The European Commissioners reached out to citizens and participated in over a thousand Citizens’ dialogues since the beginning of the mandate.

The Commission has launched several campaigns, including the EU Protects campaign and the EU and Me campaign, which reaches out to younger generations. Ahead of the elections, the European Commission together with the European Parliament will run awareness-raising campaigns to mobilise citizens to vote.

Concerns related to elections

Today’s figures show that Europeans are worried about interference in the elections:

61% worry that elections can be manipulated through cyberattacks,

59% worry about foreign actors and criminal groups influencing elections

67% worry that personal data left online could be used to target the political messages they see.

But Europeans overwhelmingly agree (74- 81%) on the way to tackle these threats:

by introducing more transparency to online social media platforms, including on clearly indicating who is behind online advertisement;

by giving equal opportunities to all political parties to access online services to compete for voters’ attention;

by giving a right to reply for candidates or political parties on social media;

by introducing the same silence period online as already exists for traditional media.

Tackling challenges

In September, the European Commission already put forward a set of concrete measures to make sure that next year’s European Parliament elections are organised in a free, fair and secure manner. The measures include greater transparency in online political advertisements and the possibility to impose sanctions for the illegal use of personal data in order to deliberately influence the outcome of the European elections.

The European Commission also set up a European electoral cooperation network, which will meet for the first time in January 2019. The Commission calls on Member States to nominate their representative for this network as soon as possible. The Fundamental Rights Colloquium will look into potential solutions ahead of the network’s first meeting.

On disinformation, the European Commission is taking a number of actions. Major tech companies signed the Code of Practice on Disinformation last month that will help provide more transparency on sponsored political advertising online. The European Commission and the External Action Service (EEAS) are currently finalising a common Action Plan on disinformation for a coordinated response at Union and Member State level to the threat of disinformation. This action Plan is to be adopted in the coming weeks.

The Eurobarometer survey on Democracy and Elections was conducted 27,474 face-to-face at respondents’ home in 28 EU Member States.

The set of measures to protect European elections focus on:

Data protection: improving the protection of personal data in the electoral context

Transparency: guaranteeing the transparency of online political advertising

Cybersecurity: protecting elections from cyberattacks

Cooperation: improving national and European cooperation on potential threats to European Parliament elections

Appropriate sanctions: guaranteeing that electoral rules are respected by all