Today, the European Commission released its annual report on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU. This is the first report following last year's strategy to strengthen the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU, which announced annual reports with thematic focuses. The 2021 report focusses on the challenges in protecting fundamental rights in the digital age. Also, the Commission will launch today an awareness-raising campaign on citizens' rights under the Charter, in response to their request to better know their rights and where to turn if they are breached.
Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said: ”Fundamental rights cannot be taken for granted. They can be challenged in many ways. In the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone's lives and painfully reminded us that our fundamental rights and freedoms are most precious. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is a powerful tool to protect people and to strengthen their rights.”
Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, added: "Our mission is to guarantee the protection of fundamental rights in our lives, no matter whether we interact online or offline. Fundamental rights ensure that we can be who we are; they enable us to participate in society in a meaningful manner. The Commission has made it a priority to shape the digital transition in a way that benefits everyone and leaves no one behind. Today's report shows the challenges we want to address, such as curbing online hate speech or bridging the digital divide. The Commission is committed to continue our work and achieve our objectives.”
Five key policy areas of the report
Tackling the challenges of online moderation. The spread of illegal content on the internet is a challenge for democratic discourse and for a number of fundamental rights. In December 2020, the Commission proposed regulatory measures to address illegal content while protecting fundamental rights through the Digital Services Act In addition, it promotes voluntary measures via the Code on countering illegal hate speech online. On 9 December, the Commission also proposed an initiative to extend the list of EU crimes to include hate speech and hate crimes.
Safeguarding fundamental rights where artificial intelligence is used. The increasing use of artificial intelligence systems can yield great benefits, but certain applications are complex and opaque, which can be a challenge for compliance with or enforcement of fundamental rights. Many Member States have developed national strategies on artificial intelligence to ensure transparency, traceability and robustness and find effective ways to comply with fundamental rights. In April 2021, the Commission proposed a legislative act to ensure that artificial intelligence systems that pose a high-risk to fundamental rights are appropriately tested and documented.
Addressing the digital divide. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for those without the necessary knowledge or equipment to access public services that are offered online. The report shows how Member States and the EU work on different approaches to ensure nobody is left behind. Solidarity remains a key principle in tackling the digital divide.
Protecting people working through platforms. Platform work has generated new economic opportunities for people, businesses and consumers. However, it also challenges existing rights and obligations related to labour law and social protection. On 8 December, the Commission adopted a legislative initiative to improve the working conditions of people working through digital labour platforms, while supporting the sustainable growth of digital labour platforms in the Union.
Supervising digital surveillance. Surveillance may be legitimate, for example to ensure security and fight crime, but not all practices are justified. In this context, data protection and privacy are not only key fundamental rights but also ‘enabling' rights that increase the protection of other fundamental rights, which can be affected by surveillance.
The Commission calls on the European Parliament, the Council and Member States to use this report to engage in exchanges about the challenges and opportunities for protecting fundamental rights in the digital age.
On 2 December 2020, the European Commission presented a Strategy to strengthen the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU. The strategy complements the European Democracy Action Plan and the Rule of Law report, illustrating the Commission's comprehensive approach to promoting and protecting the fundamental rights and values of the EU. The Strategy sets out to have an annual report looking into how the Member States apply the Charter in a selected thematic area.
The Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values programme (CERV) aims to protect and promote European Union rights and values as enshrined in the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Commission will soon launch a call for proposals on Union values that makes available 51 million EUR for the support of civil society organisations at local level. This call complements the annual report on the implementation of the Charter by offering concrete funding opportunities to NGOs working at grassroots level on the implementation of the Charter and the promotion of fundamental rights. The Commission also opened calls for EU funding on Citizens engagement and participation (EUR 17 million) and Promoting capacity building and awareness on the EU Charter of fundamental rights and activities on strategic litigation relating to democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights breaches (2 EUR million).
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