Portugal EU presidency to present ‘Charter of Digital Rights’

The forthcoming Portuguese EU Presidency will put forward a 'Charter of Digital Rights' as part of its leadership of the European Council in the first half of 2021, a government official from the country has informed EURACTIV.

Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa, left, is welcomed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Oct. 15, 2020 [Shutterstock]

The forthcoming Portuguese EU presidency will put forward a ‘Charter of Digital Rights’ as part of its leadership of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2021, a government official from the country has informed EURACTIV.

The charter aims at positioning the EU as the leader in “reinforcing the respect for individual digital rights, which are essential for the trust in the digital economy,” the official said, adding that the drafting of the text is still being finalized at the national level.

Talks on the plans are currently taking place between various public and private entities in order to settle on a final text, which Portugal hopes will be ’embraced’ by all EU member states when presented in 2021.

However, reaching unanimity on EU Council Presidency-led initiatives on digital rights could be more challenging than at first thought, considering the recent failure of the German Presidency to secure the backing of all member states on a text covering Artificial Intelligence and fundamental rights.

On 21 October, the German presidency of the EU Council adopted conclusions on the charter of fundamental rights in the context of Artificial Intelligence, but stated that ‘one member state’ objected to the inclusion of ‘gender equality’ on the grounds that “neither the Treaties nor the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights uses the term ‘gender.’”

Multiple EU sources confirmed to EURACTIV that Poland was the member state which opposed the phrase. For their part, the Poles came clean on their opposition to the text, with Ambassador Andrzej Sadoś saying that the country strongly supports equality between women and men but that the meaning of ‘gender’ is unclear.

Poland rejects Presidency conclusions on Artificial Intelligence, rights

EU Council presidency conclusions on Artificial Intelligence and human rights failed to secure unanimous backing from member states last week after Poland refused to support a text due to opposing inclusion of the term ‘gender equality,’ EURACTIV has learned.

Lisbon Declaration

Elsewhere as part of Portugal’s EU presidency, the country will aim to “promote an inspiring strategy to position Europe as a reference in the Digital Era,” with an increased focus on preserving “fundamental values of democracy, sustainability and ethical behaviour,” EURACTIV has been informed.

Such principles will not only feature in the Charter of Digital Rights but also in the forthcoming ‘Libson Declaration,’ a commitment that the Portuguese are due to present at Lisbon’s Digital Assembly next June, based on the concept of ‘Digital Democracy with a Purpose.’

The subject of Digital Democracy has been an area the Portuguese are keen to foster. Speaking as part of a recent conference, Portugal’s Economy Minister, Pedro Siza Vieira, said that the funds in the EU’s recovery package earmarked for digital projects should be directed towards efforts to further digitalise the public sector.

Such efforts have only become more necessary, Siza Vieira said, as Europe faces the prospect of further lockdown periods resulting from the coronavirus, in many cases cutting off citizens from access to vital services.

“We want to have a very significant investment in digital government,” Siza Vieira said, adding that the Portuguese presidency, which starts at the beginning of 2021, would encourage member states to focus on three areas for future digitisation, including justice, social security, and health services.

Incoming Portuguese Presidency calls for 'significant' investment into e-Government

The incoming Portuguese Presidency of the EU says that one of its priorities for its six-month stint chairing the EU Council is to foster the uptake of digital tools for governments across the bloc and that ‘significant’ funds from the EU’s recovery package should be allocated to this field.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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