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Don’t take democracy & Europe for granted

31 May 2024

Roberta Metsola, President, European Parliament

Over the past five years, the European Union has delivered in an unprecedented way. We have come together in solidarity. We have procured vaccines for all. We are firm in our support to Ukraine. From social equality to the green transition and to new digital and AI rules, we have adopted legislation that defends our way of life. Because we know from academics and historians alike, that we get more and do better from working together.

Europe is undergoing significant change. The world ahead is less predictable and more unstable.  This situation raises increased concerns regarding European core values and principles that lie at the heart of our European project: values of democracy, freedom of thought and of speech.

Over the last few months, we have become increasingly aware of those who do not wish for us to succeed. We know that there are those for whom the simple existence of the European Parliament – the European Union – is a threat. Those who view autocracy as an answer. Those who try to interfere with our processes with disinformation, cyberattacks and hacks. We have witnessed pressure attempts on members of academia to prepare biased reports that support pre-determined conclusions. All of these are methods to sow doubt in our processes at a time when Europe and its citizens are exposed to change.

Against this backdrop, defending democracy and European values have become more urgent. This also applies to safeguarding academic freedom across our European Union. Politicians were shocked at revelations, not that long ago, that some of our most reputable Universities had fallen victim to global campaign to undermine human rights and free thought. While academic oppression is nothing new, what has evolved, are the methods by which academic freedom and institutional autonomy are being curtailed in a globalised digital world. This problem does not solely occur in autocracies. It is a broader problem of manipulating knowledge. We know now not to be caught off guard, in the event of similar threats.

I am proud of the work that the European Parliament is doing – notably via the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel, STOA – for the protection of academic freedom at EU level. We are not alone in our endeavours. The EU’s 2022 Strategy for Universities includes many new actions to push for European academic distinction, while also standing for European principals of democracy and freedom.

Our EU wide initiatives include new actions such as enabling EU Member States’ higher education institutions to develop cross-border education activities; encouraging mobility for students and staff, and providing legal and financial help to European University Alliances. They also include promoting and protecting academic freedom and institutional autonomy, while supporting qualitative collaborative learning.

Ultimately, it is still most important for Europe to push for excellence in academic researcher work. How we react to geo-political threats, and how we continue to respond to those who seek to undermine our democracy, will be the litmus test of our European values.

As we approach the June 6 to 9 elections, we must remain committed to ensuring that our shared values and knowledge base remain at the root of the actions we lead.

I believe that every citizen in the European Union can play a part in shaping the future of Europe. We each have a voice to speak and Europe is worth speaking up for. That is why I call on all Europeans, not to take Europe and democracy for granted. I call on all of you to vote.