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Ahead of the EU Elections 2024 | 5 | Looking back and looking forward: the European Democracy Action Plan


Background

On 3 December 2020 the European Commission published the European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP), a strategy composed of several legislative and non-legislative initiatives aiming at supporting citizens and democracies across the EU by promoting free and fair elections; strengthening media freedom; and countering disinformation.

EPD has followed and reviewed the EDAP files very closely over the last few years. The following section provides an overall assessment and insights into the state of implementation of the EDAP as well as relevant recommendations for the next European Commission.

Looking back: an assessment of the EDAP

As EPD, we welcomed that the EDAP was the first policy document to focus exclusively on strengthening democracy within the EU, which underlines the current Commission’s ambition to put democracy firmly on its agenda.

Furthermore, in some cases the EU went beyond the measures outlined in the EDAP by responding to civil society’s demands for more EU integration, e.g. with regard to elections, which was taken into account in the dossier on the right to vote and stand as a candidate in European and local elections. Broader dossiers such as the Media Freedom Act (EMFA) or the Digital Services Act (DSA) were also linked to the EDAP in order to fulfil the need for an integrated approach in various policy areas.

In our latest assessment dating back to December 2023, we found that many actions from the EDAP had been either completed or at least started and at an advanced procedural stage. Conversely, other actions were repeatedly delayed, making it impossible for the new rules to become applicable before the 2024 EU elections. Some examples are the Transparency and Targeting of Political Advertising and the Regulation on the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations. More specifically, out of the 30 actions foreseen by the European Commission, 20 had been completed, 7 were still in progress, and 3 had not been started yet.

While much has been achieved, indicating that the current Commission is clearly prioritising democracy issues, the second part of the implementation represented a slowdown compared to the initial progress. In the first year, the Commission completed 13 actions and made progress on 11 actions, while in the two subsequent years it completed only 7 more actions and made progress on 4 others. After the initial implementation of the measures, which was quite rapid, many dossiers have been delayed or are currently stuck in trilogue negotiations, slowing down the overall progress of the plan. For this reason, the continued implementation of the EDAP in 2024 and in the next term – and more generally the EU’s ambitions for democracy – will be crucial for the legitimacy, resilience and unity of the EU.

Many procedures also often lacked transparency, making it difficult to assess progress on several crucial areas, including the EU toolbox for countering foreign interference and influence operations and the work of the Media Literacy Expert Group.

Some positive initiatives were taken to increase the inclusiveness of European elections, like measures to advance gender equality in European political parties and to ease access to the right to vote for EU citizens residing in other Member States. However, some major hurdles to inclusive elections have not been addressed. In particular, the disenfranchisement of voting for the 800.000 European citizens with a disability, as little progress has been made on issues such as e-voting.

Finally, the Commission’s civil society engagement remained ad hoc and varied greatly across DGs, with no progress on calls for an inter-institutional agreement on civil dialogue, except for some wording addressed at the Commission on civil society involvement in decision-making in the March 2023 Council Conclusions on Civic Space. Despite the EDAP’s positive prose regarding civil society’s important role in the rule of law reporting, the implementation of the strategy was marked by very short deadlines for consultations and opaque stakeholder consultation processes.

Looking forward: recommendations for the next mandate

Even though numerous EDAP files have been finalised, there is still much that needs to be progressed in the coming mandate, both in terms of finalising specific dossiers and in terms of implementation. In particular, we have provided specific recommendations for individual dossiers here.

2024 is a crucial year for the European institutions to finalise outstanding dossiers and underline their commitment to strengthening European democracy, not least because of the European Parliament elections from 6 to 9 June 2024. These 2024 EU elections will be a milestone for the effectiveness of the Digital Services Act and the Code of Practice on Disinformation and will provide important lessons for the implementation of the Regulation on Transparency and Targeting of Political Advertising.
In this context, we call on the next Commission to take forward the work and to make a strong commitment to democracy in its work programme, by taking on the outstanding dossiers and moving them forward with an ambitious agenda to strengthen democracy as a guiding value for all policy initiatives.