Reclaiming the Truth: the role of European citizens on countering fake news

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by Rui Vieira, master's student in EU law at University of Minho

The epidemic of unrestrained fake News on social medial in the latest years has revealed itself to be a major concern for the European democratic culture. The same way there is a massive amount of information circulating, there is also a massive amount of misinformation and sensationalistic, unreliable information flowing through Social Networks. The repercussions and negative effects on public opinion are varied. From social tension to the promotion of demagogy, uncertainty and pessimistic skepticism on the public opinion.

Facing such global-scaled problems, the Commission wants its citizens to feedback on fake news and online disinformation. A Public consultation on the ways to tackle this online problem is available between November and February.

The demand for possible regulation for this problem came after a 2017 Resolution by the European Parliament calling on the Commission to analyse in depth the current situation and legal framework with regards to fake news and to verify the possibility of legislative intervention.

In fact, the advent of Social Networks did nothing more than to increase older concerns. In the last century, it was already discussed if there is a conceptual distance between news and the truth and if a democratic public opinion is compatible with a free press and the search for the truth[i].

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The concept of undertaking strikes back – the activity of religious orders and congregations

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by Ana Filipa Afonseca, member of CEDU

The Court of Justice, final interpreter of the Treaties, has dealt with a broad spectrum of concepts of undertaking, making certain decisions somewhat perplexing to lawyers unsuspicious of the particularity of the concept of undertaking in the context of competition rules. These decisions are still the living proof that competition is at the heart of legal (and political) modeling process of European integration.

On the other hand, regarding the field of state aids, in the Congregación de Escuelas Pisa’s ruling, Case C-74/16, 27th June 2017, the Court of Justice had the important and difficult task of deciding whether the activities carried out by Spanish religious establishments were of economic nature. With this assumption, the Congregación de Escuelas Pías had received an illegal fiscal exemption and this measure is a forbidden state aid in the terms of the Article 107(1).

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Competition, coin mining and plastic memories: why the EU should watch the Web Summit carefully

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by Tiago Cabral, member of CEDU

After the overall success of the 2016 edition – with a few exceptions like the failing Wi-Fi[i]– Lisbon hosted for the second time “the largest tech conference in the world”. We are obviously referring to this year’s edition of Web Summit which brought about 60.000 attendees from more than 170 countries to the Portuguese capital. This event is obviously significant to the Portuguese economy with an investment of about 1.3 Million Euros originating an expected return of about 300 Million. But there is more to Web Summit than the number of attendees or its effect on the Portuguese economy (even if both are relevant), it offers a look into the future and the future brings a plethora of complicated legal and political challenges. Some of these challenges demand a supranational response and the EU should watch very carefully the trends coming out of Lisbon. In the following paragraphs, we shall highlight a few topics to illustrate.

1. “The Digital Single Market has become a new political and constitutional calling for the EU” and it cannot work in the absence of healthy competition. The European Commissioner for Competition’s “clearing the path for innovation” speech[ii] (7th November) – even if its content or delivery certainly did not impress us – made clear how seriously the Commission is taking this issue. American Tech Giants dominate the EU’s market and without proper competition enforcement, European companies may fall prey to anti-competitive behaviour before they have the chance to get a foothold. The speech also made a few interesting points about the growing importance of big data in competition and about trust in competition. However, it had a rather uncomfortable “Google paranoia” emanating from it. The 2.42€ billion fine against Google for breaching EU antitrust rules was historic – whether or not we agree with it –, but so were, for example, Microsoft v. Commission (2007) and the 561€ million fine against Microsoft (2013) for non-compliance with browser choice commitments. Yet, by name the Commissioner only referred to Google. There was a reference to the issue of special tax treatment, which immediately brings the controversies with Apple and Amazon[iii] to mind, but the companies were not named. Since there was no time to properly explain the details of the referred antitrust proceeding – or of the other two ongoing antitrust proceedings against Google, regarding AdSense and Android – the speech did nothing to further inform the audience on this issue and only left the feeling that there is a fixation on Google in the Commission. Interestingly, the 6th November intervention by the Commissioner where she was interviewed by Kara Swisher suffers no such issues. The interviewer asked the right questions, what companies are breaking the rules, what is the Commission’s reaction and what are the consequences. There was no singling out of a company with references to Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, no attempts to explain the complicated reasoning behind the proceedings in a few short minutes, the comparisons to the US also added value to the interview.

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Rose-tinted glasses might prove fatal: populists and their performances after the 2017 Dutch general election

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by Rita Costa and Tiago Cabral, members of CEDU

Seven months have passed since our submission to the 2017’s edition of the Professor Paulo de Pitta e Cunha Award regarding the European Union’s existential crisis. In our paper, we stressed that the year of 2016 was marked by a rise of populism and isolationism around the world, and addressed that the European Union must reform itself in order to regain the citizens’ trust and reinforce democracy, even if doing so entails a revision of European Constitutional law.

In one of the paper’s final remarks, we wrote:

On May 2017, the French go to the polls in the Presidential elections. The eurosceptic candidate Marine Le Pen is an almost certain lock for disputing the second round of the elections. Even if it is unlikely that she will ultimately achieve victory, the same was said of Donald Trump. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ PVV might become the largest political party in the Tweede Kamer (lower chamber of the Dutch parliament). While it is almost certain that PVV will not be able to form a government because they will not achieve the required majority and do not have the support of other parties, such a result should be cautiously noted. In Germany, the dispute will be between Merkel’s CDU and Schulz SPD, none of them being an immediate risk to European integrity. Even so, AfD’s evolution in recent years is worrisome . (…) The political forces that wish for the disintegration of the EU have a lot of defects, but no one needs to tell them ‘di qualcosa, reagisci!’”

Now it is time to draw up the second chapter with an update on the 2017 European political landscape.

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Editorial of November 2017

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by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor


The forest fires in Portugal and the EU

The Author of this post took the photo above during a common episode of her daily life, returning from work. While I was waiting for someone I stared at the landscape around me. Sadly, I realized, on that sunny, bright and warm October day, that the surrounding green I’d been accustomed to had partially disappeared. And I photographed it. I will not bother the reader with the reasons – these are personal and subjective. That is not the case of the reasons for its disclosure with this post.

The place photographed will not be revealed. The place is not the point – and not being the point, it is the point. It could be anywhere. That landscape is not only the one I photographed in that spur of the moment. Anyone present in that place, at that moment, was contemplating the same landscape – it was not a matter of me, but of us. And similar landscapes are, sadly, scattered through Portugal today and will remain for a long while – us is so much bigger than that place, at that moment.

And because the forest fires that ravaged Portugal in 2017 are so much bigger than that place (Portugal), at that moment (2017), the European within me was on alert as well.

The forest fires that occurred in Portugal were impressive not only because of their dimension and their impact, but also because of the unusual period of recent occurrences. In addition to the heavy human losses – the number of fatalities tragically exceeds a hundred – and to the equally heavy ecosystemic damage – associated with the loss of biodiversity always linked to any phenomenon of forest degradation/destruction –, the anomalous character of the forest fires recorded on October 15 and 16 also generates awareness to the reality of climate change.

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