Participating in elections is a condition of functioning of democracy
Commissioner Vera Jourova
On 25 September 2018, Commissioner Jourova participated in a Citizens' Dialogue at the Fundamental Rights Forum in Vienna. There was a lively and interactive discussion about “the importance of belonging in building an inclusive society” with the philosopher and publicist, Isolde Charim and activist Femi Oluwole as Commissioner Jourova’s stage partners. In a very positive ambiance participants made their voices heard on a number of important issues – from the impact of digitalisation on future societies to the role and responsibilities of politicians and civic participation of young people.
The Dialogue started with a question to the Commissioner and her stage partners about their personal feelings and interpretation of belonging. Commissioner Jourova underlined that the feeling of belonging could be very diverse. “We certainly live through many different belongings, some stay stable others change. We belong to our families, to our cities, to our countries but also to the European society with which we would share basic values” – she said.
The Commissioner acknowledged the existence of a “bubble of belonging” bearing a risk of exclusion, but she also noted that this cannot be changed through legislation. Femi Oluwole confirmed that sometimes the “bubbles of belonging” are not evident at first, and they are very difficult to overcome. Philosopher Isolde Charim at the same time underlined that in today’s society belonging is often a result of what separates us.
Talking about the role of the EU in setting the rules versus providing opportunities, Commissioner Jourova added that the EU should be careful with its use of legislation. Its role should only be to open new possibilities, and change the mind-set step-by-step. She gave the example of the paternity leave, which offers the choice for fathers to spend more time with their new-born children.
Some participants wanted to know to which extent the political discourse would influence the public opinion. Commissioner Jourova made a point to stress that the influence of politicians is decreasing. In the digital world, everybody could be a journalist and it would be increasingly difficult for politicians to retain their strong voices. It is therefore important for politicians to be heard, but in a responsible manner. Decision makers should bear the responsibility for what they say.
Young people wanted to know what the Commission would do to advance their rights. The Commissioner admitted that she found it surprising that most political parties did not encourage the participation of young people, and hoped that the digital transformation would enable young people to better participate. She also drew attention to EU efforts to increase the digital skills of young Europeans as well as encourage their civic engagement.
Asked about a broader use of new technologies, Commissioner Jourova stressed that we have to be careful using digital: it is an opportunity but a risk at the same time. We should not let digital increase the gap in our society.
Responding to a question about the forthcoming European election, she concluded by underlining that participating in elections was a condition of a functioning democracy.
The event in Vienna was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States.