Council sets out vision for protecting fundamental rights in the digital world

The Council today approved conclusions on digital empowerment to protect and enforce fundamental rights in the digital age.

The text reaffirms that fundamental rights apply equally online and offline and that everyone should have the opportunity and support to acquire basic digital skills in order to be able to comprehend and exercise their rights. These skills are also necessary to enjoy the full potential of public and private services, which are increasingly provided online.

The conclusions centre around two pillars: digital empowerment of individuals and key sectors and the construction of a safe digital environment where fundamental rights are protected.

Digital empowerment of individuals and key sectors

Against the backdrop that, according to Eurostat data, 46% of European citizens currently lack basic digital skills, the Council invites member states to take action such as:

  • promoting adequate media and digital literacy
  • taking measures to ensure that everyone can equally access online public services
  • raising awareness on the importance of protecting privacy
  • allocating funding to support media and digital education, training and skills development tailored to the needs of different groups of persons

Construction of a safe digital environment where fundamental rights are protected

Our digital environment can be threatened by various challenges such as online disinformation which causes an erosion of trust in institutions and media. The rise of hate speech, hate crimes and cyber violence also puts at risks our fundamental rights online. And even though AI can have significant positive effects, if lacking sufficient transparency and if used without adequate safeguards and quality controls, it can also present challenges for the respect of fundamental rights and the fight against discriminations.

To develop a safe digital environment, the Council calls on member states to – among other things – continue fighting against online hate speech notably by enhancing the capacity of judicial and law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute illegal online hate crimes and hate speech.

The Commission is invited to counter online disinformation and illegal content by supervising and enforcing the rules of the recently adopted Digital Services Act, and by regularly assessing the implementation of the 2022 Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation and the Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online.

Background and next steps

The EU is working on several policies to bring about the digital transformation. In 2022, the Council adopted a Path to the Digital Decade programme. It aims to strengthen the EU’s digital leadership by promoting inclusive and sustainable digital policies that serve citizens and businesses. To this end, it sets out 10 digital targets that the EU and its member states aim to reach by the end of the decade. These targets include that there is 100% online accessible provision of key public services and that at least 80% of those aged 16-74 have at least basic digital skills.

The 80% basic digital skills target is also part of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan of 2021 which details the EU’s goal of implementing the Pillar’s 20 principles to ensure better living and working conditions throughout the EU.