Federal Minister of Justice Christine Lambrecht explains:
We are striving for a strong Europe that is better armed against serious crises such as the Corona pandemic. Especially now, it is crucial to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Populists and radicals are trying to abuse the emergency situation in which people have found themselves during the Corona crisis.
We must protect the rule of law and rights of liberty with parliamentary control, an independent judiciary and free media. Freedoms should not be restricted even a day longer than absolutely necessary. Even in times of crisis, democratic participation at all times must be preserved.
We in Europe have taken various approaches in dealing with the Corona pandemic. Now, we can learn from one another and all better protect ourselves. We must not forget: The virus continues to put people’s lives at risk.
The second issue concerns the fight against hate speech, incitement to violence and fake news. We cannot accept the public debate being distorted and poisoned. During a pandemic, spreading nonsense about vaccines or simply denying that the virus exists can put people’s lives at risk. Youtube, Facebook and Co. have a responsibility to not allow themselves to be misused as platforms for hate and disinformation. We need to continue to take steps toward enforcing clear responsibilities on the part of the platforms. Voluntary commitments and self-responsibility are not enough.
The justice ministers addressed the following topics at the informal meeting:
1. Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in liberal democracies governed by the rule of law
In the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, European member states were forced to considerably restrict freedoms in order to protect the life and health of their citizens. They took various approaches towards that end. The justice ministers exchanged experiences about how their citizens have dealt with the restrictions of their rights. They also discussed the question of how policymakers have reacted to criticism, scientific findings, and decisions by the judiciary. The goal is to better equip democracies and states governed by the rule of law to cope with crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Countering disinformation and hate speech
Rumours, conspiracy theories and fake news are spreading at lightning speed during the pandemic. Denying and distorting facts about the virus can endanger lives. And it also endangers the foundations of democratic discourse and debate. Indeed, conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic often include hatred against people of Asian descent or racism and anti-Semitism. This shows once again how urgent it is to combat hate speech on the web, fake news and disinformation. The Justice Ministers exchanged views about counter-strategies and future measures – for example, the Digital Services Act planned by the European Commission.
The topics of victim protection and support for victims of terrorism were also on the agenda of the Justice Council. Federal Justice Minister Lambrecht announced that the German Presidency would take up and further intensify the EU Commission’s strategy for victims’ rights.
Chaired by German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, participants included the 26 additional justice ministers of the EU as well as the Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourová, the Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, and the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove; participants from the European Parliament will include the Chair of the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI), Adrián Vázquez Lázara, and the Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Juan Fernando López Aguilar