What policies do policy makers at national and EU levels develop and implement to promote digital empowerment for citizens? We asked György Schöpflin, MEP (EPP, Hungary) and Rapporteur on ECI, and Marju Lauristin, MEP (S&D, Estonia) and Professor of Social Communication, teaching e-Participation, about their policy work and stances on the digital inclusion and e-Participation. Here are excerpts of our conversation.
Digital inclusion means equality
MEP Lauristin (S&D, Estonia) is coming from one of the most digitally advanced EU Member States, Estonia, where policies are also targeted at different groups of citizens with less resources and access to online tools. “We have taught e-skills in rural schools, trained retired people through partnerships with private companies and made sure that the means to reach internet are available to all by improving infrastructure and offering free Wi-Fi in rural areas”, shares MEP Lauristin.
She emphasizes that digital inclusion means equality:
“…the heart of the social democratic digital policy is in equality. Without equal access and equal opportunities we end up with policies that only serve a selected group. But by ensuring infrastructure, education and training we can make sure that the market policies have subsequently a much wider effect.”
MEP Lauristin gives us examples of some of the best practices in e-services implemented in Estonia such as available e-health solutions, widespread use of digital signature, which not only, as she says, brings efficiency and, thus, gives people more time to do other things like work or spend time with their families. Moreover, some of these e-Participation tools can work for “truly wide democracy”. She presents crowdsourcing as an innovative tool that has been recently used in Estonia to push for a reform of electoral laws. “Seven of the fifteen proposals the online platform eventually made to the national Parliament were adopted into Estonian laws”, MEP Lauristin emphasizes.
NGOs and grassroots movements play their role in the process as intermediary bodies. She explains that the crowdsourcing initiative mentioned, ‘Rahvakogu’, had been put in action by NGOs.
Fostering the development of digital citizenship and social media
As a policy maker, MEP Schöpflin (EPP, Hungary) has been contributing to making online tools for e-Participation and e-services available to more European citizens through encouraging the development of digital citizenship and social media.
“Access to information creates ever wider possibilities for debate and participation, as well as challenging conventional wisdom, thereby enhancing innovation”, states MEP Schöpflin about the big potential that e-services and e-Participation tools could provide to citizens in a digital society.
There are many different societal groups that are excluded such as migrants, young people, those living in rural areas and all of them need support to get online and start exercising their rights and actively communicate with their officials. MEP Schöpflin has directed his efforts in working with the elderly for digital inclusion. He concludes with the fact that if policy makers are going to work towards diminishing the gap among the different EU Member States in terms of using e-services and attracting citizens, “investment in the cognitive, semantic and intellectual capacities of society” needs to be made.
If you are interested to hear more from both MEP Lauristin and MEP Schöpflin and to learn about the civil society perspective on e-Participation, join us at the Enabling Civil e-Participation in Europe conference in the European Parliament on 8th December. Representatives from national and umbrella organisations, active citizens, who will share their perspectives on digital inclusion and how to make citizens aware of what is out there in the digital world, will be there too.
Interviewed and prepared by Angelina Atanasova
Edited by Ilona Griniute