On Tuesday, 27. October 2020, members of Committee on Culture and Education exchanged views with Commissioner Mariya Gabriel and gave their thoughts on the situation on the Hungarian University of Theatre and Film Arts. 

Thousands of people have formed a chain in the streets of the Hungarian capital Budapest in protest at what they say is a takeover of a top arts university by the country’s government. Demonstrators fear a new board at the University of Theatre and Film Arts, led by an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, will ruin its autonomy. It is the latest battle, and possibly last stand, against the Hungarian government’s attempt to seize power in independent institutions of all sorts, including cultural ones. Demonstrators demanded autonomy for the school and freedom for artistic endeavour and education.

The university is the seventh institution to be transferred to the control of private foundations where the board of directors are selected by the government. The government denies claims that it is limiting freedom of expression, and says the privatisation of this and other universities will make them more competitive.

MEP Joveva expressed her full support to the students and extended her congratulations on their strength, efforts, and fight for their university. “I hope you will manage to free the chains the government tries to put onto you.” Brilliant artists have emerged from this university and Joveva hopes they will continue to do so – in all freedoms that belong to them. The government has been systematically strangling media freedoms, democracy, and freedom of speech over years now, this just being the newest peak, she added.

CULT members also discussed with Attila Vidnyanszky. He was recently appointed to chair the board of directors and he made clear what the 155-year-old institution’s new direction would be: he wanted a “different kind of thinking” at the university, adding that existing classes would be kept with some ephasis placed on patriotism and Christianity. That is why MEP Joveva asked him: “What does this even mean? Is the meaning of your patriotism to suppress everything that does not comfort to your own ideas and values?” She continued that hiding an ideological battle under the facade of alleged increased competitiveness is a dangerous move we have seen before.

MEP Joveva also had a question for the Hungarian Minister of State for Economic Strategy and Regulation, Laszlo Gyorgy. Her questions and the speech in full length can be watched underneath:

If you are interested to know a little bit more on this matter you can read this article.

 

On Thursday, 22 October 2020, MEPs discussed the serious security threats posed by the sale of European Union passports and visas to third-country nationals. Offering citizenship in exchange for cash undermines the foundations of democracy and exposes our society to corruption. The problem of the so called system of “Golden visas” was firstly pointed out by investigative journalists. The media working group of the European Parliament, of which member is also MEP Irena Joveva, has therefore prepared a statement with which they want to draw attention to the importance of investigative journalism.

The Media Working Group in the European Parliament: Scandals around „Golden Visas” show the importance of investigative journalism

Today the European Parliament debated the serious security threats caused by the sale of EU passports and visas to citizens of third countries. In the past few years, a number of member states offered so-called “golden visas” where wealthy citizens could buy long-term visas, residence permits or even citizenship of EU Member States by taking part in certain investment schemes. These dubious schemes in various forms operated in such States as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and Portugal, to name a few.

After years of delay, the European Commission is now ready to step up and take action against these schemes in the case of Cyprus and Malta. Offering citizenship for cash is undermining the very basis of our democracy, and such practices in one Member States are affecting all 27 EU Members.

The truly international efforts to stop citizenship-for-cash regimes became possible because of the efforts of a large number of dedicated and courageous investigative journalists from a number of countries. We are truly grateful for their work. They revealed how people who were allowed to stay within the EU were causing a security threat. Many of the beneficiaries of these schemes have built up their wealth through money laundering and corruption or they are key members of oppressive dictatorships. It has been revealed how corrupt systems were built up to smoothen the applications of those who were “ready to pay extra”, including neglecting the necessary security checks.

The cross-party members of the Media Working Group are calling the attention of the European Commission to make sure it follows up on all the journalists’ revelations on this matter. Murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was among those who had worked on revealing the corruption behind the structure of golden visas. It is our duty to respect her memory and support the journalists who were able to reveal the facts about this threat to our democracy. Democracy needs protection and democracy needs independent investigative journalism.

On behalf of Media Working Group

David Casa, Co-chair of the Working Group
Ramona Strugariu, Co-chair of the Working group
Magdalena Adamowicz
Irena Joveva,
Alive Kuhnke
Dace Melbārde,
Viola von Cramon-Taubadel

Foto: European Parliament

On Friday, 16 October 2020, before the second plenary session of the European Parliament in October an online interview with journalists took place focusing on the reform of the Common European Agricultural Policy and the debate and vote on Parliament’s proposals on the content of the Digital Services Act and rules on artificial intelligence. 

MEP Irena Joveva pointed out that attention will be paid to the digital agenda. For a long time, there have been calls for the Union to become digitally sovereign, thus catching up with China and the United States. The Digital Services Act (DSA) will address many pressing issues the Union and society are facing in the increasingly digital environment. “At the plenary session, we will adopt the legislative initiative report (INL), which is not legislative per se, but will have significant political implications. From this document, the Commission will follow the proposals supported by the majority support of the European Parliament,” said Joveva. She continued they will adopt three separate reports: the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). Irena Joveva was shadow rapporteur on all three opinions within the Committee on Culture and Education (CULT).

She spoke about the plans of the Commission, which is expected to issue its legislative proposal in early December.

“It is expected that the essential emphasis will be ‘ex ante’ rules preventing large internet corporations from becoming so-called ‘gatekeepers’, arbitrarily preventing access to smaller competitors in the market. Essentially providing the necessary conditions for smaller companies to compete with technological giants.”

According to Joveva, graver importance carries the monopoly over human relationships and data: “There used to be a saying ‘tell me whom you hang out with, and I’ll tell you who you are’; but today it’s ‘show me your “feed”, and I’ll tell you who you are.” The DSA will be a response to happenings related to the algorithms of user activities, which takes place mainly on social networks. Within the DSA we are trying to regulate the area of ​​transparency of these algorithms, such as labelling (political) advertising according to the origin and payment of online publication, labelling and removal of controversial or misleading information, moderation of content online. While keeping an appropriate level of freedom of speech, freedom of reporting and respecting the rights of individuals as well as their privacy. “The key is to identify the difference between illegal content, such as child pornography or terrorism, and harmful content. Platforms will be obliged to remove illegal content immediately, while clear rules of procedure will be set for harmful content.

In conclusion, MEP Joveva said that many questions remain open, such as how to track down people who uploaded illegal or harmful content to online platforms. She adds that the Parliament and the Committees have taken a step in the right direction in regulating the daily changing digital environment.

According to various indicators of the activities of MEPs, Irena Joveva is the most active Slovenian MEP in several fields of her work.

All activities of Members of the European Parliament are regularly updated on the “MepRanking.eu” web portal. On the portal, you can check MEPs work in the relation of the whole of Parliament, within the parliamentary groups, the Committees in which they are active, and comparing to all other MEPs from their country. A while ago, the VoteWatch organisation created an analysis of MEPs cooperation and networking, where MEP Irena Joveva was ranked in the 12th place.

The Member of Parliament is also very active in all other activities and obligations of parliamentary work. The online ranking tool for MEPs shows that she has asked the most written questions among Slovenian MEPs so far (27), explained her vote the most (as many as 244 times) and was five times the shadow rapporteur for the opinion. With twenty-three speeches, she is also one of the most active Slovenian MEPs in the parliamentary discussions.

You can follow the activities of MEPs at this LINK.

On Wednesday, October 14, 2020, Irena Joveva participated at the Regional Journalists’ Days, where she opened a panel discussion titled “Disinformation, Social Networks and Journalism: Understanding and Fighting Fake News”. The panel discussion aimed at independent media platforms, investigative journalists and experts from the Western Balkans and Turkey. The discussion focused on fact-checking and information exchange during the global crisis.

She initially paid tribute to the journalists for their work, which contributes to democracy in the Balkans. Furthermore, she highlighted the impact of the current health crisis on the media world, as the covid-19 pandemic also caused a formation of new term ‘infodemia’.

 “Fake news, conspiracy theories and disinformation are nothing new, but nowadays, social media helps them reach masses. The legislation is not able to follow the fast-developing events on the internet, causing its adoption of regulations and laws to be slower than the development of technologies.”

She also highlighted the issue of fake news: “When you identify misinformation and try to correct it, the correction never reaches as many people as the original. Fake news is 70% more likely to be shared and taken into account than real news.” The MP notes that media freedom is being threatened in democracies as a result of the media ownership is slowly transforming into the property of political parties. The situation in the Balkans is particularly worrying. In contrast to the past, when there were few credible sources of information, today we are faced with a flood of publications of entirely fake news, but people, unfortunately, do not have enough time to fact-check them. Joveva sees the solution in educating people about social media, reading and understanding of the news and online content, and by the transparency of ownership of the media.

The European Parliament and the European Union as such, are working hard to combat the burning issue of misinformation and false news, by taking several steps in this direction. For example, a Committee on Disinformation and an informal Working Group of MEPs for the media have been set up in the European Parliament to address such issues. Additionally, in 2018, the European Commission strengthened and formulated the Action Plan against Disinformation, and is working hard to draft the Digital Services Act and the Action Plan for Democracy.

She concluded her speech with the thoughts: “Everyone; civil society, journalists and legislators, must work together to strengthen the media and independent journalism. We can all learn a lot from panels like this, where we exchange different ideas and views.

You can watch the panel discussion HERE.

As part of the interactive event “Generation Code: Born in the Library”, Irena Joveva spoke with Maja Vunšek from the Kranj City Library, who recently joined the EU initiative Public Libraries 2030. The library was included in the group of innovative public libraries in Europe “Lighthouse Libraries”. Project “Public Libraries 2030” brings together public library advocates among MEPs, called MEP Library Lovers. Irena Joveva answered questions on topics at European Union level; on the work during the pandemic, the priorities of the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility her work a member of the Committee on Culture and the importance of public libraries. 

As Joveva explained in the introduction, the pandemic had utterly destroyed the established work patterns in the European Parliament. However, once the online meeting platform was properly set up, teleworking became almost uninterrupted, allowing us to work in our full potential. She is in regular contact with her colleagues, although she has not travelled to Brussels since the beginning of the pandemic. But being in Brussels does not necessarily mean being in the meeting room. “Most participants also use teleworking techniques in Brussels. At this point, it seems we have created new normal working conditions that could be used in the future when the corona crisis passes,” she added.

She agrees that the “Next Generation EU” recovery package will play a vital role in the EU’s recovery. Its primary purpose is to support the Member States in recovering from the crisis and boosting the economy, as well as to help private investments and ensure greater stability in the future, should such an event as this pandemic reoccur. Managing the economic and health crisis, together with digital development and tackling climate change, will be a priority, helping Europe to achieve its important goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral continent. She added: “I am pleased that the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, supports the European Parliament’s position on the rule of law mechanism for funds allocated to each Member State as a safeguard against exploitation and misuse.” In the current proposal, she regrets the low involvement of culture and the lack of plans for housing policy and youth employment. Unfortunately, the draft proposal for a multiannual financial framework also reduces funding for important youth and cultural programs, such as Erasmus Plus, which is why Joveva, together with like-minded MEPs, is strongly committed to trying to ensure much-needed funding.

She is a very active member of the Committee on Culture and Education:

 “My main priorities in the committee are youth, education, culture, media freedom and digitalisation related to the development of artificial intelligence and sport. I am currently working on a European Solidarity Corps dossier. It is a European Union initiative that creates opportunities for young people to volunteer or to participate in projects across Europe. It gives them a great opportunity for several activities that allow them to gain work experience and represent a great stepping stone in career opportunities.”

Europe’s main priorities for the coming years are the fight against climate change and digitalisation. She sees the role of libraries in the context of education: “Libraries could make a significant contribution to educating people by organising seminars and workshops, helping them to understand how they, as individuals, can contribute to our common European goal. Moreover, educating the older generations on how to use new technologies successfully will be crucial.

At the end of the interview, she spoke about her views on the importance of libraries in Slovenian politics: “Of course, politicians are aware of the importance and the potential of public libraries, but how much they engage them in their policies, and their work as such, is a completely different question.” She stressed that the lack of emphasising the importance of public libraries is directly correlated to the lack of highlighting the meaning of culture in Slovenia’s public. It’s the result of the inactivity of the Slovenian Minister of Culture, who does not point out the problems in the field of culture, reflecting in the late responses or even non-response to the issues. Adding that in her opinion, education and culture need to cooperate in raising reading culture in Slovenia: “Promoting reading through mechanisms such as ‘the reading badge’ is undoubtedly welcome, but I believe that the main actors in the field of education and culture should come together and develop a strategy for increasing reading culture and library visits.” Finally, she listed some ideas that could make libraries more attractive to visitors and highlighted the need to keep up with the digital development by increasing the supply of digital materials and books.

A recording of the conversation, which – with the exception of the last question and the answer to it – was conducted in English, can be viewed HERE.

On Wednesday, 30 September 2020, MEP Irena Joveva hosted an informal virtual debate with experts and NGO representatives regarding Slovenia’s strategic plan and the need for an ecological compromise to achieve climate neutrality. Joveva wanted to emphasize the importance of dialogue with the profession and the need to communicate. The environmental and climate crisis is something that concerns all of us; therefore, the decision-makers must get to know different sides and hear other opinions. Balanced compromises are the only way we will be able to achieve the goal.

Irena Joveva initially explained the current vital issues being adopted at European level, focusing on the climate law and it’s the goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050 in the EU. Joveva advocates the ambitious but realistic intermediate goal of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels).

She explained that many funds from the European budget, as well as all additional “post-corona” financial mechanisms, will be provided for the environment and nature. In her opinion, as this is a unique opportunity for Europe, funds should be provided to change the social paradigm. But one is the existence of funds, and the other is their usage: the implementation and spending will be in the hands of Member States, and it seems Slovenia does not have a general development strategy. Part of Slovenia’s plan to achieve the goal of climate neutrality is positioning of hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) and wind power plants (WPPs) into the Natura 2000 protected areas. Joveva was interested in what ecological compromise we must – if necessary – reach.

Jurij Stritih, who participated in the preparation of the environmental study for the National Energy and Climate Plan of Slovenia (NEPN) said the placement of new HPP and WPP projects in the environment is not only unnecessary but also degrading for the environment while being non-compliant with environmental legislation. According to him, the main alternative to be highlighted is solar energy, which is often not taken seriously.

A few participants pointed out that solar power plants could be very effectively installed on the roofs of industrial buildings, shopping malls and parking lots. Dr. Tomislav Tkalec (Focus Association) added that in Slovenia, there would have to be several dispersed projects in terms of solar energy, showing a significant energy effect only cumulatively, which can be an investment barrier.

Tomaž Mihelič from DOPPS (Society for the Observation and Study of Birds of Slovenia) said that in most parts of Slovenia wind power plants do not pose a significant threat to birds. There are only a few critical ridges as a result of Slovenia’s position in the European area between the Dinarides and the Southern Alps. He agreed with Stritih that it is essential to provide a study of the very few sensitive regions in Slovenia, to thoughtfully place wind powerplants into the environment without significant negative effects on birds, thus facilitating procedures for energy investors.

Boštjan Surina (Faculty of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Information Technologies, University of Primorska) pointed out the problem of misleading and misinformation by the government and investors who want to present HPPs and WPPs to the public and local residents in the best possible light. Senka Šifkovič Vrbica, an environmental lawyer, mentioned that in the case of the construction of HPPs in the protected area, it is necessary to provide compensatory measures and provide replacement habitats. By doing so, dr. Urša Koce(DOPPS) highlighted the Brežice HPP project, which was carried out based on providing compensatory measures. Their study of the environment and the habitats created by the compensatory measures showed inefficiency of those measures. Damjan Vinko (Master of Biology, a former member of the NGO Council at the Ministry of the Environment) was critical of the possibility of prioritizing other benefits over the public benefit of nature conservation, which, according to him, can only be the exception and not the rule.

According to the participants, Slovenia lacks a long-term strategy for the future. It is crucial to establish the existence of alternatives beneficial to the economy while not having catastrophic effects on the environment and nature. They agreed there is no need to sacrifice environmental goals to achieve climate goals, as both can be achieved. Everyone also agreed with Irena Joveva that in addition to communication, transparency is crucial.

On Friday, 11 September 2020, an online debate entitled “Green Deal after the pandemic” took place where MEP Irena Joveva (RE) together with MEP Ljudmila Novak (EPP), State Secretary at the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning dr. Metko Gorišek, Taj Zavodnik from the Society for Sustainable Development Focus, and dr. Luka Omladič, a philosopher and environmental analyst at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ljubljana, tried to find answers questions on what the agreement on the future of European finances and recovery from the pandemic reached in the July summit of EU member states brings from an environmental point of view.

 

Among other things, Members of the European Parliament point out the agreement does not make it possible to pursue the objectives of the European Green Deal. In recent months, the covid-19 pandemic and declining of economic activity and traffic developed a different apprehension of how to live differently, travel less and reduce consumption, all of which could make a vital contribution to achieving the goal of climate neutrality.

 

The European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) today supported a proposal for a European Climate Act which proposes a 60% reduction in emissions by 2030 (compared to the base year 1990) and the achievement of carbon neutrality for all Member States until 2050. MEP Irena Joveva emphasised that time is ahead of us and not the other way around. “As a co-decision-maker, the European Parliament must set goals more ambitiously as each Member State often looks only at national interests and not at common / European interests and solidarity.” In her view, only the multiannual financial budget and the Just Transition Fund will not be sufficient to achieve the goal of climate neutrality; therefore, she emphasised the need for the so-called Union’s own resources. “A plastic tax has been agreed in the Council. I hope they at least extend the ETS mechanism, trade with emission coupons, at the same time, including the maritime and aviation industries, set a higher price for these coupons and then run the highest possible amount collected in the EU. Additionally, there is also a carbon import tax,” which she tries to pursue as a substitute member of the ENVI Committee.

 

In the end, it is up to the Member States to draw up national strategies and concrete steps to achieve the environmental objectives. The MEP Joveva expressed her concern regarding the usage of the European funds; she emphasised that, based on what she has heard so far, she is concerned that in Slovenia we will only use funds from the project to project, for short-term goals. “It is true; we will have to close TEŠ6, the construction of NEK 2 was mentioned, while we don’t talk enough about raising the share of renewable sources. Compared to other countries, the Slovenian percentage is growing too slow“ said Joveva. “The key projects will be the energy renovation of buildings, industry, renovation of the railway infrastructure, the transition to green transport, subsidies for electric vehicles, circular economy, personnel (re)training… Slovenia’s goals will have to be broader, long-term and much more imaginative to alleviate people’s social hardship, increase funding for health care, long-term care, while not reducing environmental ambitions. The price of inaction or insufficient goals in this area will be high, but not in terms of money.” These are vital things that all national decision-makers should keep in mind when formulating strategies, explained Joveva. She also pointed out that there are plenty of ideas or good practices that other countries are already implementing, from building wind power plants to a larger share of solar panels. France and Germany, for instance, have announced joint investments in the construction of batteries as well as investments in the production of hydrogen as an alternative energy source. It is necessary to set goals in the long-term strategy and pursue them if we genuinely want to live in a carbon-free environment by 2050.

 

Finally, she mentioned that the EU is undoubtedly a leading force in tackling climate challenges but that it is a global problem. “This ‘fight’ will depend on the result of upcoming elections in the United States, the results of which China is also waiting for.”

MEP Irena Joveva was a guest on an online discussion organized by the Office of the European Parliament in Slovenia, titled “Misinformation during a pandemic in the digital era”. Discussions focused on the misinformation sources, the damage misinformation caused to society, the reach of traditional and modern media, the role of social networks in spreading misinformation, and the legislative framework and options of the EU to regulate the spread of misinformation. Participants of the discussion were MEP Tanja Fajon, prof. Mojca Matičič from the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions at the University Medical Center Ljubljana and Janja Božič Marolt, founder and director of the Mediana International Institute for Market and Media Research.

Mojca Matičič pointed out the call centre as an example of good practice for sharing information, which was organized by students of medicine during the first wave of the epidemic: “Access to credible information and empathetic and understandable dialogue with callers was a key factor of the project’s success.” Božič Marolt confirmed that people want credible information. Mediana’s research has shown that the highest level of trust between the Slovenian public has the public RTV broadcasting service. Contrary to the prevailing impression, the vast majority of Slovenes follow health and government recommendations and measures, protecting themselves and wearing masks. Fajon highlighted the importance of media education and media literacy with the emphasis that these two alone are not enough: “People summarize information with emotions and once false information is anchored in our brains, it is impossible to erase it. Not even with denials and lawsuits, the damage is done.

Irena Joveva said that the European Commission is currently preparing digital services act and an action plan for democracy. They will regulate the field of hate speech, provide greater transparency of algorithms and clarity of content, primarily sponsored ones. She emphasized that we need both; self-regulation and taking the initiative and responsibility of online platforms for published content, as well as their legal regulation. There is a thin line, but we have to define the limitations. “Adoption of legislation is not the only responsibility of politics, but also how they behave and communicate. Communication in Slovenia was inappropriate; the citizens were to often confronted with conflicting information which contributed to conspiracy theories. As a result, people began to believe everyone and everything they have heard, instead of trusting the ones who provided them with credible information, “Joveva summed up.

Regarding hate speech, she pointed out the existence of different interpretations of what hate speech is: “We are arguing about this definition in the European Parliament because there are also MEPs who build their political messages on hate speech.” In the end, it will be a political agreement; however, she does not believe that the virus of infodemic can be cured, but it can be treated by combining legislative measures with the actions of the web platform operators. At the same time, a critical assessment by the people and the media will have to prevail. In this regard, Joveva points out the uncritical summarization of Twitter posts: “World leaders use it to communicate directly with citizens, without the filter of critical judegment, such as the judgement of journalists.” Božič Marolt, who believes that it is inappropriate for the public media news to open with unverified information from Twitter or to provide information from social media in the news program, also confirmed Joveva’s statement.

Mojca Matičič concluded with the similarities between the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the COVID-19 pandemic. Matičič said: “We already knew exactly how the virus was transmitted in the early 1980s. There was no cure, no vaccine, but we knew a way to avoid infection. Unfortunately, this has not been talked about for years and years, even though millions of deaths could have been prevented. There has been a huge amount of misinformation and conspiracy theories arguing the disease does not exist. And there is still no vaccine against AIDS, but it is not problematic because we all know how to protect ourselves from getting infected. With the Covid pandemic, we have the opportunity to adapt our behaviour to protect ourselves, to be responsible, honest to ourselves and others, and to consider and spread reliable and verified information.

Irena Joveva expressed her support for the organized LGBTIQ+ movement in Slovenia and participated at the 20th Pride Parade. Organizers note that progress on LGBTIQ+ rights has stagnated in recent years, and hatred against the LGBTIQ+ community has intensified.

The demands and political messages of this year’s Ljubljana Pride Parade focused mainly on the areas of access to health services, unregulated legal areas, requirements in the field of social security, the joint struggle of various movements and conditions in the field of social inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people. The organizers are also critical of the intensification of repression against LGBTIQ+ people, which is taking place simultaneously as the attacks on the basics of democracy, such as freedom of the media, division of power, free public expression of disagreement and transparent elections. In Slovenia, they observe the sympathy of political representatives with the policy of t. i. Visegrad groups. Joveva, whose work in politics is based on overcoming a culture of hatred, attended the parade to support the LGBTIQ+ movement and raise awareness among the general population about diversity, its acceptance and destigmatization of various social groups.