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Intervention by President Charles Michel at the Summit for Democracy

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Raad, gepubliceerd op vrijdag 10 december 2021.

No two democracies are the same. No matter where a democracy has taken root on this planet, it is unique in its own way. But every democracy has many things in common. I would argue that they have the most important thing in common - they give power to the people.

And to do that, democracies rely on values. Freedom. Equality. Human rights. The rule of law. History has shown that these values must be nurtured, defended, fought for. With vigour and with passion. Every day.

Today more than ever our democracies, and the lives of our citizens, are defined by the digital transformation. This transformation presents not only huge opportunities but also risks for our democracies.

We - in Europe - strive to place democratic values at the heart of our digital transformation. A transformation focused on people and their well-being. We believe this approach can be a global model for a free, secure, values-based internet.

Our digital future is bursting with possibilities beyond our imaginations. Global data is today’s equivalent of yesterday’s carbon. That’s why today we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. We must use this powerful new resource wisely and sustainably.

As leaders, we must ensure this vast potential is harnessed for good. Good for our citizens, good for our societies and good for our democracies.

During the pandemic, we have witnessed the tremendous power of the internet to bring people together. To communicate, to share and even to heal. The power to forge tight-knit communities in difficult times.

And crucially, the internet also has the power to hold politicians and public institutions accountable. Citizens coming together online, speaking with one voice.

This is no ordinary power. It is a special and unprecedented power. But like all new and powerful tools, our digital transformation also brings new challenges to our democracies.

Cyberattacks can paralyse individuals, businesses and governments. Increasingly sophisticated forms of information manipulation and interference have become more frequent and more destructive. They test our faith in facts and sow the seeds of doubt.

Malign actors exploit digital technologies, like artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms. They infiltrate electoral campaigns and manipulate voter behaviour - an increasingly worrying trend.

And big tech has amassed enormous power, but not all of these companies have shown the willingness to accept the matching responsibility. Their market dominance and data control give them enormous influence over our democratic process.

Faced with these challenges, I believe people want the same protection online as they have offline. EU citizens believe that our digital society should be based on our European values. Inclusive societies that leave no one behind.

We have a clear vision for a digitally transformed Europe by 2030. A transformation that puts people, and our planet, at the heart of our digital future. We want to be a global leader in promoting an open, interoperable, reliable and secure internet.

We want an internet underpinned by rules that protect our citizens. And we want to help our partners become freer and more democratic. Because democracy and openness place the greatest freedom in the hands of people.

And in Europe, we are taking concrete action. Our Digital Services Act will bolster transparency, especially in advertising and the algorithms behind these digital services. It will enhance accountability, foster innovation and protect people’s fundamental rights online.

And we are leading the way in regulating artificial intelligence. We want to support the development and uptake of safe and ethical artificial intelligence, by both private and public actors. Artificial intelligence that respects fundamental rights without jeopardising investment and innovation.

This could also mean banning or curtailing certain AI practices that can negatively impact our values and fundamental freedoms.

We are equally working to strengthen people’s digital literacy. Their democratic rights must be guaranteed online in the same way as they are offline.

Today cybersecurity is a top concern, especially for our open and free democracies. Cyber threats menace our security, our democracies, our economy and even our personal lives. Cyberattacks often unfold on a large scale, so we must respond on a large scale. That’s why we are working together to reinforce our ability to respond collectively.

We will also strengthen our cyber defence through our upcoming European Strategic Compass and through our ambitious EU-NATO cooperation.

Democracy relies on trust. Trust is built on fairness, accountability, transparency and the rule of law. This Summit for Democracy is a moment to show that democracies, above all other models, are rising to today’s challenges and delivering for our people.

Today, that means making digitalisation the engine of our prosperity and the social well-being of our people, while protecting their fundamental democratic rights.

I am convinced we have a unique opportunity in human history — to rally our fellow democracies, emerging democracies and non-democracies alike. And to harness our collective energies in a spirit of inclusive democratic renewal for the well-being of our people, no matter where they live on this planet. Thank you.


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