The new EU Commission must address information power

Ahead of the European Parliament elections, ARTICLE 19 shares its recommendations for the new European Commission, urging it to strive for a more open information environment across the EU.

By Article 19 (guest author) · May 29, 2024

For over a decade, the flow of information and how people see, read, hear, say, and share information, has been controlled by a handful of private companies threatening democratic participation and everyday freedoms.

The European Parliament elections and selection of a new European Commission in June 2024 are an opportunity for the European Union to reaffirm its commitments to promoting the right to freedom of expression and access to information, and address the ever-growing challenges to information integrity across the EU and beyond.

Concentration of power threatens free expression and access to information

The concentration of information power poses serious threats to civic space and democracy: from proliferation of disinformation, state-backed propaganda, and hate speech to the marginalisation of minority voices, the silencing of dissenting narratives and the limiting of user choice and access to services.

The egregiousshadow banning’ of voices by large platforms in the Israel-Hamas conflict and the rise in hate speech on platforms in advance of elections are just two prominent examples of how this power inhibits the exercise of fundamental rights.

A vision for a better European Union

If the European Union is serious about its commitments to fundamental rights, the new Commission must seize on the opportunity and strive for a better EU – one where the information environment is open, decentralised, fair, diverse, and inclusive.

To achieve this vision, ARTICLE 19 believes the Commission should focus on 4 key priorities:

  1. Creating conditions for an open, fair, pluralistic and decentralised information environment

Together with other EDRi members, ARTICLE 19 has been engaging with policymakers throughout the legislative process of key acts and directives relating to the information environment. Now, the Commission must focus on full and effective implementation of those pieces of legislation.

This includes addressing power imbalances, gatekeeping and high barriers to entry through the Digital Markets Act, which has the potential to open social media networks to intra-platform competition; ensuring that the Digital Services Act is enforced in an equal, consistent and effective manner across all platforms, focusing on the risks to democracy, society and individuals, while fully respecting fundamental rights; and making sure the enforcement of the Artificial Intelligence Act limits and delegitimises the surveillance activities that have major implications for human rights.

  1. Embedding human rights throughout the technology stack, the mainstay of the information ecosystem

Human rights must be integrated in the design, development and deployment of the infrastructure of the internet.

The Commission should consider the human rights implications of infrastructure technologies when monitoring the implementation and enforcement of regulatory frameworks for infrastructure providers.

It must also financially support research on the human rights impact of infrastructure technologies, as well as the effective and sustainable civil society participation in technical standard setting processes. At present, such bodies are not structured to meaningfully engage with the human rights considerations – this must change.

  1. Increasing transparency

Within the opaque confines of the final negotiations (trilogue) for legislative proposals between the EU institutions, the Council continues to wield a disproportionate influence. During the current mandate, the Council has prevailed over the European Parliament on many occasions regarding fundamental rights considerations, resulting in weaker texts – a key example is the AI Act.

A new Commission must be more transparent with the public by improving access to information and demonstrating transparency more broadly. This could mean, among other things, respecting the rulings from the Court of Justice on trilogue transparency.

  1. Advocating for these goals in international fora contributing to the establishment and support of an open, diverse and resilient information ecosystem worldwide

The European Union’s impact extends beyond its 27 member states; this means it has a responsibility to promote a better information environment globally. To do so, it must continue to meaningfully engage with the UN and relevant multilateral and multi stakeholder fora, contributing to initiatives impacting freedom of expression and related rights online and offline.

A case in point are important discussions around this year’s United Nations Summit of the Future, the Pact for the Future and the Global Digital Compact.

The Commission must listen

Meaningful participation of civil society and other stakeholders will be key to the new European Commission’s achievement of all these goals.

ARTICLE 19 looks forward to engaging with the institution to make sure our voice, and that of our partners, are heard.

Read ARTICLE 19’s full recommendations for for the new EU Commission.

Contribution by: EDRi member, Article 19