On the occasion of Europe Day on 9 May, the European Parliament's Liaison Office in Berlin, together with the Representation of the European Commission, organised a panel discussion on the topics of the Green Deal, digital participation and Europe's position in the world. The citizens decided which aspects the guests would deal with in concrete terms.
Both live and in the run-up to the event, interested parties had the opportunity to ask their questions. The MEP Martin Schirdewan (Die Linke) and Renate Nikolay, Head of Cabinet of EU Commission Vice-President Jourová, spoke about the issues of digital participation with the experts Prof. Maisha-Maureen Auma, Professor of Diversity Studies at the Faculty of Education of the University of Applied Sciences Magdeburg-Stendal, currently a visiting professor at the TU Berlin, and Alexander Sängerlaub from futur eins. The journalist Karin Kekulé moderated the discussion round.
End dependence from major platforms
A central topic of discussion was the role of the big platforms such as Facebook and Twitter: "We are confronted with a high monopoly in the digital market, where a few companies, the so-called Big Five, control up to 80 percent of the market and thus also dictate the rules. The success model of these platforms is based on generating attention," says Martin Schirdewan. This leads to these companies generating attention and earning money with depictions of violence, hate speech and fake news, and "we have to tackle that".
Alexander Sängerlaub also sees a problem in the construction of these platforms: "We are on the net on platforms that were not built for democratic discourse, but were made for private content. The algorithms are not interested in factuality or truthfulness. There is little moderation and no accountability structures." The way out of this dependence on the big platforms is clear legislation for the digital space, says Renate Nikolay: "What is illegal offline is also illegal online. At the moment, we don't have clear laws in all Member States. Therefore, for many problems we are still dependent on the platforms like Facebook, which decide what content appears on the platform. We must not delegate to a platform to decide what is illegal online. Laws give us the chance to take it into our own hands what can and cannot appear on these platforms." Close cooperation between the member states is necessary, says Renate Nikolay.
"Only if we move forward together do we have a chance. Germany alone has an important position in the world, but it has no chance of asserting itself against players like China or the USA. Only together, as the European Union, do we have the chance to take a strong position and shape the digital transformation in a way that serves us."
More protection on the internet
Prof. Maisha-Maureen Auma sees a particular need for action in the legal protection against discrimination online: "Shaping inclusion means: a right to participation, equal opportunities and protection against discrimination. And it is precisely the implementation of the third point that we are already failing to achieve in the non-digital world. Digital formats are unfortunately very loose or very non-binding when it comes to protection against discrimination." Martin Schirdewan also spoke out in favour of a law to protect activists: "The right to anonymity for socially or politically active people on the net is an important protective mechanism so that these people can do their work on the net at all and are protected.
Expand digital competence and infrastructure
Alexander Sängerlaub in particular repeatedly emphasised the importance of digital literacy: "Digital literacy is the fourth cultural technique. So far, we have three cultural techniques: Reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, we spend so much time in the digital world that dealing with digitalisation has now become the fourth cultural technique, so we have to build competences here at all levels and integrate them into education so that we can move confidently online."
In addition to clear legislation and the competence to be able to move in the digital space, the expansion of infrastructure is another key element for digital participation, according to Prof. Maisha-Maureen Auma. She calls for equal opportunities to be taken into account when expanding the infrastructure: "Digital empowerment always means that we have to find out who is excluded. We see this, for example, in homeschooling right now. The infrastructures available to the children are very different. Some neighbourhoods have a very poor digital infrastructure. Here we have to think about concepts for a fair redistribution."
The discussion was embedded in a framework programme on the topic of digitalisation. A welcome address by the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli kicked off the programme, followed by an interview on the digital future of Europe with Marina Weisband, German-Ukrainian politician and journalist, conducted by Georg Pfeifer, Head of the EP Liaison Office in Germany, and Jörg Wojahn, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Germany. The Europa Direct Center in Aachen presented its project for the digitalisation of the city and dedicated volunteers of the pan-European network gemeinsamfür.eu presented their actions on digital. In addition, various people on the street were interviewed beforehand about their questions and thoughts on the topic. The improvisation theatre group frei.wild provided entertainment with their acting interludes.
Europe Day - Celebrating peace and unity
The hybrid panel discussion took place as part of this year's Europe Day celebrations. Europe Day celebrates peace and unity in Europe. On 9 May 1950, the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman gave a speech in which he presented his vision of a new kind of political cooperation in Europe. His idea was a supranational European institution to manage and pool coal and steel production. Robert Schuman's proposal is considered the foundation stone of today's European Union.