How to ensure the resilience of our societies in a changing European landscape – the interaction between democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights

This conference hosted by the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the EU will discuss the values on which the Union is based, in particular fundamental rights and the rule of law in connection with democracy.

What is the impact of various forms of disinformation on democratic processes? How should the rule of law tools of the EU be strengthened and developed? By what means could we promote the participation as a fundamental right in order to build inclusive societies where the voice of everyone is heard?

Organisers: Ministry of Justice, Prime Minister's Office

Contact persons:
Kaisa Tiusanen, Ministry of Justice, tel. +358 295 150 169
Hanna Rönty, Ministry of Justice, tel. +358 295 150 035
Henriikka Leppo, Prime Minister’s Office, tel. +358 295 160 023
Heidi Kaila, Prime Minister's Office, tel. +358 295 160 313


Tuesday 10 September

8.30–9.30 Registration

9.30–10.45 Opening session

Welcoming words by the host of the event, Director General Johanna Suurpää, Ministry of Justice
Opening of the conference by the Minister of Justice of Finland, Anna-Maja Henriksson
Keynote speech by the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová
Keynote speech by Director Michael O’Flaherty, EU Agency for Fundamental rights

10.45–11.15 Coffee break

11.15–13.30 Working session I: Democracy

Theme: Democracy and disinformation

Democracy permeates the structures of the EU and its member states. A functioning democracy is a precondition for EU membership and elections are the cornerstone of representative democracy. The European Parliament ensures direct democratic representation at EU level. The right to vote and participate in political life are also guaranteed at the local level for EU citizens.

Credible elections require a safe and balanced political climate that enables genuine political debate. Technological advancement and innovations pose both opportunities and threats in the electoral process and in strengthening democracy. Voters increasingly get their information on the internet and from outside traditional media houses and print media. Social media plays an ever-increasing role. Disinformation can hamper political debate and in the digital environment, especially on social media, it can spread and reach wide audiences quickly. It can also be targeted or used for malicious purposes. Disinformation can put democratic elections at jeopardy, not only by risking affecting the election outcome, but also by diminishing the trust in the democratic institutions.

This first panel will focus on the impact of disinformation on democratic processes. The panel will examine experiences from the most recent European Parliament elections and discuss the impact of new technologies in elections and the role of media through the themes of disinformation, fact-checking and the ways in which democracy and democratic processes can be strengthened.

Moderator and introduction: Markku Suksi, Professor of Public Law, Åbo Akademi University


  • Marie-Hélène Boulanger, Head of Unit, Union Citizenship Rights and Free Movement, Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, European Commission
  • Heidi Hautala, MEP, Vice President of the European Parliament
  • Lusine Badalyan, Senior Election Adviser, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
  • Sophie Roberts, Director, Community of Interest on Influence, The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats
  • Michael Meyer-Resende, Executive Director, Democracy Reporting International

13.30–14.30 Lunch

14.30–14.45 Intervention on the participation of children

UNICEF Finland

14.45–17.00 Working session II: Fundamental rights

Theme: Participation as a fundamental right

Fundamental and human rights lie at the very heart of democratic societies. Without universal respect for these rights, the social fabric falls apart. The state has the primary responsibility to promote, protect and fulfil the rights of everyone to participate in the political and public life without discrimination of any kind.

The right to participate is an entry point into the society and contributes to peaceful, democratic and inclusive societies. It also promotes the rule of law and the realisation of all other fundamental and human rights. In addition to being a central component of the human rights based approach, the right to participate is at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union guarantees participatory rights for the European citizens.

The second panel will examine participation as a fundamental right, taking a comprehensive view on different forms, levels and modalities of participation. The panel focuses on the equal realisation of the right to participate in political and public affairs and asks how we can promote the equal and meaningful participation of different groups, such as youth, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons and national and ethnic minorities, in order to build inclusive societies where the voice of everyone is heard.

Moderator: Kirsi Pimiä, Non-Discrimination Ombudsman of Finland, Member of Equinet Executive Board


  • Barbara Nolan, Head of Unit, Fundamental Rights Policy, Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, European Commission
  • Christophe Poirel, Director of Human Rights, Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe
  • Lora Vidović, Ombudswoman of the Republic of Croatia, Member of the Board of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI)
  • Gabriel N. Toggenburg, PhD, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights
  • Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director, ILGA Europe
  • Pirkko Mahlamäki, LL.M., Executive Committee Member of the European Disability Forum; Secretary General of the Finnish Disability Forum

17.00 Closing of the first day

18.00 Reception hosted by the City of Helsinki

Wednesday 11 September

8.15–9.00 Registration (day 2)

9.00–9.45 Opening of the second day

Opening by the Minister for European Affairs of Finland, Tytti Tuppurainen
Keynote speech by the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans

9.45–12.00 Working session III: Rule of law

Theme: Rule of law as a prerequisite for a democratic society

The rule of law is the cornerstone of any democratic society. It is a core value of the European Union and one of the founding principles stemming from the common constitutional traditions of its member states. A proper system of checks and balances upholds the separation of powers and ensures accountability. Citizens must be able to trust the public institutions. This requires, inter alia, that the principles of legality, legal certainty and prohibition of arbitrariness of the executive powers are respected. Independent and impartial courts, effective judicial review and equality before the law are also essential.

The third panel will discuss the following questions: how should the rule of law tools of the EU be strengthened and developed? What are the roles of different European actors in ensuring that the rule of law is respected? Could we find new ways to identify possible deficiencies earlier and prevent them?

Moderator: Teija Tiilikainen, Director, Finnish Institute of International Affairs


  • Allan Rosas, Judge at the European Court of Justice
  • Emmanuel Crabit, Director, Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law, Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, European Commission
  • Christine Roger, Director-General, Justice and Home Affairs, Council of the European Union, General Secretariat
  • Päivi Hirvelä, Justice of the Supreme Court of Finland, former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights, Substitute Member of the Venice Commission
  • Mark Ellis, Executive Director, International Bar Association

12.00–12.45 Wrap-up conversation between the working session moderators and adoption of conference conclusions

12.45–13.00 Closing words

Director General Johanna Suurpää

13.00– Lunch


Please note that participation in the conference is by personal invitation only.

News item: How to Strengthen Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights – Tools Discussed in a Presidency Conference

Speech by Minister of Justice Henriksson

Speech by Minister for European Affairs Tuppurainen 

Speech by Álvaro de Elera, Member of Cabinet of First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans

Column: Kaisa Tiusanen: Common rules ensure safe sailing for the EU



10.9.2019 – 11.9.2019


Mannerheimintie 13, Helsinki, Finland