European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová champions topics crucial for Europe’s future. From leading the Commission’s work on values and transparency to ensuring that democratic systems are open and transparent, she believes in a Europe that leads by example. In this exclusive interview, Jourová shares her vision on fighting for gender equality and against disinformation and explains why a united Europe is a strong Europe.
This interview was originally published in the ALDE Party Liberal Bulletin in December 2021.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is a unique democratic exercise that gives Europeans an opportunity to express their hopes and concerns for the continent’s future. But how can we ensure that the voice of citizens is heard and that real changes are achieved?
Let me start by saying that I am a strong believer in this project. We really need to have as broad a discussion as possible about the vision for Europe. Currently, 70% of Europeans say that while the EU is a good place to live in, reforms are needed. With 800 citizens directly involved in the Conference, it has been very refreshing for me – after seven years of living here – to hear perspectives from outside of the Brussels Bubble.
It is good to keep in mind that the Conference is not about the process but about the result. We are committed to working with people’s contributions and doing our best to reflect most opinions. But this is far from an easy exercise and not everybody will be happy. However, we are truly making the effort to connect with citizens, like we did for example during the Strasbourg plenary in October, and we are also listening to what young people have to say.
Speaking of Europe’s future, the rapid rise in the spread of disinformation and fake news is challenging our societies, from vaccine disinformation to fake news around elections. You have played an instrumental role in strengthening the European Commission’s Code of Practice on this topic. In your view, what concrete steps can Member States, EU institutions and citizens take to fight back?
Disinformation is a very dynamic and complex phenomenon. There have always been rumours and there have always been people who have been misled by them. But, today’s amplifiers, like social media platforms, have given this phenomenon a new impetus and new strengths. During the pandemic, we have witnessed cases where disinformation has harmed or even killed people. We started working on the Code of Practice back in 2018, and it seems to me that many people now realise that we were right in starting this work.
What will not happen in Europe, at least not while I set the agenda, is establishing some official arbiters of truth, such as some social media boss or a prime minister. This is not what we want. Instead of just removing content we must bring in the facts: facts are objective, opinions belong to an individual. This is hard work and we need societies and citizens on board to check information and fight for facts. I think the platforms should display the lie and the evidencebased truth side by side, so that the users can see both.
I speak about facts because as someone who works on topics related to disinformation, or rather anti-disinformation, I have a horrible dilemma. I often hear, especially at the European Parliament, opinions which I don’t like from representatives of the far right or far left. But, unless the political parties expressing these opinions are classified as extremists, as a true liberal who believes in the right to express one’s opinion, I have the duty to protect the right of these groups to do so, whether I agree with them or not. Like John Stuart Mill said in the 19th century, if we start silencing somebody’s voice, we are not liberals.
In addition to more fact checking, we need to also do more against foreign interference, which can constitute a security threat. We need to establish an effective system of sanctions and demonetise disinformation. In other words, producing and spreading disinformation must not be a lucrative business. At the moment, it is very profitable, and that is why we work with different platforms, the advertising industry and the media to fight back.
Disinformation is a complex phenomenon that requires complex solutions – there is no silver bullet. But we really do not want to do it the Chinese way. That is not Europe and it will never be Europe.
There is still a lot to do when it comes to gender equality as well. Quoting you, “gender should be everywhere” – how do you think we can incorporate this important perspective at local, national and European levels?
To me, gender equality is a matter of fairness and I think that is what I meant when I said that gender should be everywhere. Of course, it already is, but it comes with a big but. I believe this century will be the century of women, because we want to take more responsibility for the state of the world. And I am certain that the world will be a better place as a result.
60% of university graduates are female, and yet only 3% of CEOs, 18% of management board members and 30% of parliamentarians are women. You cannot help but think how we can afford this horrible loss of talent. It is not rational or economical, and first and foremost it is unfair. I believe we must decrease the pay gap because we need to implement measures that will protect women’s economic standing.
Moreover, we need more women in decision-making positions. I know that some are in favour of using quotas while others are not. I am in favour of quotas when we first consider education, qualifications and ability and, when we have comparable candidates in these regards, we give priority to the underrepresented gender.
Violence against women is also an issue we need to urgently tackle. I am not only talking about domestic violence, which has increased at an alarming rate during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also about violence that takes place online. There is a negative trend of attacking female journalists, female politicians, female representatives of NGOs, and so on. Women who make themselves heard on topics with significant public interest are often immediately harassed. The European Commission wants to propose a legislation to decrease this type of violence and to implement the necessary punishments.
The end of the year is always a good moment to reflect on what’s to come. What are your own personal hopes for Europe’s future, 5-10 years from now?
I wish Europe to be more united and stronger with regard to the rest of the world. The only way to achieve this is to be and stay united. I think there is a reason why the European Union was able to transform itself from a community centred around the single market to a union which is more like a family with shared values.
However, I would like to witness more common understanding of this, starting with the question which values connect us. At the moment, we are in a crisis when it comes to rule of law and democratic processes, and the low trust people have in democratic institutions continues to be a serious issue. There have also been attacks on minorities, and people’s fundamental rights have been under threat.
Simply put, I believe that by being stronger on these issues, the European Union will be stronger as a whole and can become a more effective partner for the democratic allies across the world. In an interconnected world, we need to lead by example.
A more united Europe without compromising or negotiating our values is my hope.
You can follow European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová on Twitter here.