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Parliamentary speakers discuss implications of digitalisation for representative democracy

Even for the last of the conferences held in the framework of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, hopes for a meeting in person will not be fulfilled. The Conference of the Speakers of European Union Parliaments on Monday, 10 May 2021 will be held in video format, like all of the preceding meetings jointly organised by the Bundestag and Bundesrat. The country that held the Presidency in the second half of the previous year always hosts the EU Speakers’ Conference, which is why Germany is the host on this occasion. How much the President of the Bundestag, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, and the President of the Bundesrat, Dr Reiner Haseloff, would have liked to meet their counterparts in Berlin is evident from the invitation. “Unfortunately, this form of in-person event to conclude the German Presidency of the Council of the EU has proved impossible due to the ongoing dynamic nature of the pandemic”, the two German Parliamentary Presidents announce regretfully.

Nevertheless, the meeting will take place. “After last year’s cancellation that was forced on us by the pandemic, we were determined to resume our interparliamentary exchanges”, Wolfgang Schäuble emphasised in the run-up to the conference. “At the same time we acknowledge the particular constraints of a video conference and shall be focusing on one topic”, he added.

Keynote presentations by political scientist Jeanette Hofmann and economist Francesca Bria

The topic is “Digitalisation and the changing public sphere – risks and opportunities for representative democracy”. The discussion, which will be chaired by journalist Anke Plättner, will be livestreamed and can be viewed on the www.parleu2020.de website. After Dr Schäuble and Dr Haseloff open the proceedings at 9.30 a.m., keynote presentations by political scientist Jeanette Hofmann and economist Francesca Bria will launch the discussion on the day’s topic. Both of the speakers are acknowledged experts in their respective fields. Jeanette Hofmann heads the group "Politics of Digitalization" at the Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin and is a professor of Internet politics at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies of the Freie Universität Berlin. During the 17th electoral term she was an expert member of the Study Commission on the Internet and Digital Society. Francesca Bria is President of the Italian National Innovation Fund and an Honorary Professor at the University College London (UCL) Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. She lectures there on digital sovereignty and people-focused smart cities.

Bundestag President Schäuble expects “intensive and fruitful discussion”

Wolfgang Schäuble expects an intensive and fruitful discussion. “The digital transition is radically changing our public sphere”, he says. That, he adds, is sure to have implications for parliamentary democracy, which is already under pressure in all Western countries. What can be done, he asks, to counteract fragmentation into “partial publics”, and what does people’s widely growing expectation to be involved actually mean for the representation principle? “These are only two of the burning issues on which my European counterparts and I can share our experiences”, says the President of the Bundestag.

Bundesrat President Haseloff: two faces of the digital transition

“The digital transition is changing our world at a frenetic pace”, says Reiner Haseloff, President of the Bundesrat. This is most clearly observable, he says, in the ways that people communicate and inform themselves about politics. “But the digital transition has two faces”, stresses Haseloff, who is Minister-President of Saxony-Anhalt. On the one hand, digital technology enables more and more people to take part in discussions, “and on the other hand we are witnessing online manifestations of increasing intolerance, aggression and threats to freedom and democracy.”

Dr Haselhoff therefore asks the key question that is particularly relevant to parliaments, as the beating heart of democracy: how can liberal democracy function in a digital world? He looks forward to lively discussions with various points of view from all over Europe. “It is precisely in this diversity and this commitment to fundamental values that our strength in the EU lies, which chimes very well with the motto of the European Union, ‘United in Diversity’”. (hau/4 May 2021)

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