European Parliament Vice President described as a ‘proud moment’ the strong approval by the European Parliament of a package of proposals to counteract the threat that counteract the threat that Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) pose to journalists, NGOs and civil society in Europe. SLAPPs are frivolous legal actions based on exaggerated and often abusive claims, aiming to intimidate and professionally discredit their targets, with the ultimate objective of blackmailing and silencing them.
Addressing a press briefing shortly after the vote, EPP MP Robert Metsola recalled that the EP has long been asking for legislation against SLAPPs, and this vote – through different political groupings – demonstrated a strong united Parliament on this issue. “This vote is the clearest of messages that Europe fights to guarantee the freedom of press and the protection of journalists”.
Metsola said that SLAPPs are used by criminals who scout around jurisdictions to cripple journalists, academics and experts, explaining how sometimes cases are opened against persons personally to ensure the case keeps following them even if they leave a specific institution. The text highlights the frequent imbalance of power and resources between claimants and defendants, which undermines the right to a fair trial.
The EP Vice-President added that the EP has called on the European Commission to introduce rules which ensure that the claimant should face sanctions if they fail to justify in what way their action is not abusive. MEPs expressed concerned about SLAPPs being funded from state budgets, and their use in combination with other state measures against independent media outlets, journalism and civil society.
As the European Parliament is a co-legislator, the next challenge will be to achieve a majority at Council level. “We will be working with colleagues across the political spectrum to achieve this goal”, she added.
Parliament said that it regrets that no member state has so far passed targeted legislation against SLAPPs. Therefore, it called on the Commission to present a package of measures, including legislation. It also called for criminal and civil liability charges, and measures to ensure that defamation cannot be used for SLAPP and an EU fund to support victims of SLAPPs and their families, as well as adequate training of judges and lawyers.
Co-rapporteur Tiemo Wölken, from the Socialists and Democrats added: “We cannot stand by and watch as the rule of law is increasingly threatened, and the freedoms of expression, information and association are undermined. It is our duty to protect journalists, NGOs and civil society organisations reporting on matters of public interest. Our courts should never be a playground for rich and powerful individuals, companies or politicians, nor should they be overloaded or abused for personal gain.”
Replying to questions by the media, Wölken insisted that the EU needs to make sure that individuals are not pursued in different countries, at the same time for the same reason.