[WATCH] SLAPPs: European Parliament to receive first proposals in coming days - Casa

MEPs demand more ‘powers to intervene’ against states with uninvited Europol corruption investigations and funding cuts; European Parliament to get its hands on the Commission’s first anti-SLAPP proposals soon

European Commission will shortly give MEPs its first proposals for an EU-wide law limiting the use and scope of SLAPPs
European Commission will shortly give MEPs its first proposals for an EU-wide law limiting the use and scope of SLAPPs

The European Commission will be delivering its first batch of proposals for an EU-wide law limiting the use and scope of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), Nationalist MEP David casa said Monday morning.

Speaking during as webinar on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Casa told participants that European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová had confirmed at a recent meeting, where he was representing the European Parliament’s Media Working Group, that she will, “in the coming days give us the Commission’s first anti-SLAPP proposals and we will start working on them as soon as possible”.

SLAPPS are lawsuits primarily intended to cause a chilling effect on critical media by burdening them with costs and expenses. This is usually done by taking libel action in other jurisdictions that levy high libel fines and where court costs are prohibitive.

Most of the Maltese media had been subjected to SLAPP lawsuits in 2017 when Pilatus Bank threatened of Malta’s media houses with lawsuits in the US and UK. Libel fines are capped in Malta at EUR11,000, for good reason given economies of scale, while libel fines in foreign jurisdictions can easily stretch into the millions, and into five and six figures in court costs.

As such, the prospective pan-European legislation is seen as essential for Malta’s media, which, given their size, are prime targets for SLAPP lawsuits by large corporations.

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola was, in fact, last month appointed as the upcoming legislation’s parliamentary rapporteur.  She said at the time, “This can become a water-shed moment for journalism in Europe. Journalists face threats of not only violence and murder but legal suits from unscrupulous actors who seek to silence media houses with the threat of vexatious lawsuits.”

The webinar brought together three MEPs with the journalists whose lives and work are under threat. MEPs David Casa (EPP), Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA) and Sophie in 't Veld (renew) interviewed, respectively, Italian journalist living under protection Federica Angeli, Veronica Munk – co-editor-in-chief of telex.hu – and Bulgarian journalist Nikolay Straykov.

Some states ‘living in impunity’ because of Commission’s reluctance to act

in 't Veld called on the European Commission to stop pandering to national governments when it comes to protecting “courageous journalism”, which, she stressed, “is a cornerstone of democracy, and is so necessary for the fight against corruption”.

According to in 't Veld, the European Union as a whole has a lot of measures that can be applied in these areas, but, she lamented, Parliament, the Commission and Council do not all share the same agenda.

She had scathing criticism for the Commission: “We can see that the European Commission, and in particular the current Commission, has this feeling that it is serving the member state governments.  Therefore, we can have lots of European legislation but when it comes to actually going against or sanctioning national governments, the Commission is reluctant.

“That is a big handicap. The Commission is always arguing, yes, but national governments are ultimately responsible for the fight against corruption, the protection of journalists and related matters.

“But we see examples where that is not the case. There no need to mention the names, we all know what we are talking about.”

More powers needed to act against certain ‘European governments’

In those cases, she says, “The EU should have the power to intervene, even if uninvited the national government. Such powers, for example, could include having Europol investigate allegations of corruption in member states.”

She also called for more powers to cut off “certain European governments” from funding: “We need to put more pressure on the Commission to actually use the tools that we have, even if that means going against a national government.

“They can no longer be living in a space of impunity because of the Commission’s reluctance to go against national governments.”

The European Public Prosecutors Office, the formulation of which Malta had opposed for many years before buckling to pressure brought on by the drive for institutional reforms, will begin work on 1 June.  in 't Veld was hopeful and described the head, Laura Kövesi as a “courageous woman” who will be able to what needs to be done.

MEP Heidi Hautala, meanwhile, observed how “at the forefront of our struggle for press freedom should be improving institutions”. That is, according to Hautala, “because in many countries where we have the most severe press freedom problems there are also very poorly working institutions and a lack of independence of the judiciary.”

She pointed to the EUR1.5 billion being made available through the Citizens Equality and Rights and Values Programme, as well as and the EU Justice Programme professionals fund as ways in which “the EU is really trying to support democracy, human rights and press freedoms”.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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