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EU Council adopts freedom of expression guidelines, implications for foreign relations

The Council of the European Union has adopted the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Expression online and offline, adding to the EU’s Human Rights Guidelines.

The EU hailed the development as a reaffirmation of “the pivotal role that freedom of opinion and expression play in a democratic society”. The general aim of the Guidelines, says Brussels, “is to address unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression, promote media freedom and provide valuable guidance to EU officials and staff across the globe.”

“Through these Guidelines”, the Council press release states, the EU “stresses that the right to freedom of opinion and expression is a universal right and applies to all persons equally. States must ensure that their legal systems provide adequate and effective guarantees of freedom of opinion and expression to all and can be properly enforced.”

Significantly, the Guidelines also protect freedom of expression on the internet, affirming that “human rights which exist offline must also be protected online, in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

The Council has also vowed that, in pursuit of these aims, “the EU will make full use of the tools available, such as traditional diplomatic tools (political dialogues, high level visits, public statements and demarches), but also good and effective use of financial instruments available, public diplomacy in multilateral fora and continuous cooperation with regional organisations, such as the Council of Europe and OSCE. “

News of the EU Council decision comes as criticism mounts over the body’s response to restrictions on freedom of speech in post-coup Egypt. Dr. Daud Abdullah, writing recently in Middle East Monitor, described the EU as complicit in the abuses of Cairo’s “populist dictatorship”, as the body looks to send officials to monitor the military-run elections.

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