New Justice, Rights and Values Fund - Related Opinions
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Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" (SLAPPs) are a particular form of harassment used against journalists, rights defenders and others who are involved in protecting the public interest. Typically, they are meritless lawsuits lodged by powerful individuals or entities against a weaker party who expresses a critical position on a matter of public interest. Through this Opinion, the EESC welcomes the European Commission initiative – a proposed Directive and a Recommendation – aiming to tackle this growing phenomenon. The EESC also proposes to go beyond the current scope of the initiative, notably through a stronger focus on national aspects, and recommendations on aspects like preliminary rulings or training.
In this opinion, the EESC recalls that media freedom, including the safety and security of journalists, and media pluralism are cornerstones of liberal democracy. It therefore notes with regrets that the developments within the EU are alarming and calls for urgent steps by Member States and the EU, including through the use of the new general regime of budget conditionality. The EESC welcomes the broad range of reports and initiatives by the European Parliament and the Commission, including the Commission's plan for a "European Media Freedom Act". It also supports measures to increase the safety of journalists and underlines the necessity of a legal ban on Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The EESC supports the idea of a European Agency to bolster media skills of EU citizens through educational programmes. It also proposes the creation of a fully independent European public service broadcaster.
Liberal democracy relies on civil liberties and a pluralistic civil society, but considerable political forces in today's Europe are challenging liberal democracy. The social, political and legal framework must allow for a pluralistic civil society. Strong social partners and civil society are needed to defend EU values. The EESC calls for the creation of a Democracy Semester, a European control mechanism, corrective economic measures for non-respect of fundamental EU values, the creation of a European statute for CSOs, or interinstitutional CSO authorisation and, tax incentives to support civil society. Burning social questions must be tackled, ensuring social sustainability and inclusive education.
The EESC welcomes the proposal for economic corrective measures regarding Member States that commit serious violations of the rule of law in Europe, and recommends that the interdependence between democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law is better reflected. The Commission should develop further channels for debate on Article 2 TEU values, and should include the EESC in this work. The EESC reiterates its call for the creation of a system of regular and independent monitoring of the implementation of these values in the Member States.
Europeans need more (and better) Europe. The powers and financial resources currently allocated to the EU have been increasingly misaligned with the concerns and expectations of Europeans. The EESC, in accordance with the European Parliament's position, therefore proposes that the expenditure and revenue figure reach 1.3% of GNI. The proposed level of commitments of 1.11% of the EU's GNI is too modest to credibly deliver on the political agenda of the EU.
The EESC recognises the high European added value of the programmes where the MFF 2021-2027 concentrates the main increases in expenditure. However, the Committee questions the fact that these increases are made at the cost of strong cuts in cohesion policy (-10%) and the Common Agricultural Policy – CAP (-15%).
Delivering on balanced economic growth and social progress should be the guiding principle for the debate on the social dimension of Europe. A clear road map for the implementation of European Pillar of Social Rights is advisable with clear assignment of tasks coupled with accountability. The social dimension debate is connected to the debate on deepening the EMU. Social policy has to be embedded in a different EU economic policy. A strong EU can shape globalisation and digitalisation to the benefit of all.
In this own-initiative opinion the EESC calls on the European institutions to promote a positive image of CSOs, preserve their independence and strengthen their capacity for action.
Beside a detailed diagnosis of the situation and role of civil society organisations, the EESC presents 26 recommendations for better civil dialogue and access to resources, including ideas for the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework.
The EESC finds that financing of CSOs is essential for participatory democracy and that the article 11 of the TEU on structured dialogue with civil society must be properly implemented. It calls also for the establishment of an EU Ombudsman on civic space freedoms and of a European fund for democracy, human rights and values within the EU.
Alarming political decisions have shown that the EU lacks adequate instruments to safeguard fundamental values and the rule of law. A new European mechanism on the rule of law and fundamental rights is needed. The mechanism should include a regular assessment of Member States in a governance "policy coordination cycle", similar to the European Semester. The EESC should play an active role, as this will make for strong civil society involvement. The mechanism must be based on indicators, taking into account the indivisibility of fundamental economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights.
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