Describing the European Union as "a strange object", because there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world, Santos Silva noted that it was founded in the name of peace and has evolved into the building of a way of life, a social model and a political entity. He stressed the importance of it being enriched with the participation "of all Europeans … men and women of all generations, conditions, orientations and affiliations".

This participation, he continued, must be on three levels: the search for and "critical interpretation" of information, "participation in public debate" and "participation in decision-making power", including choosing representatives and the political orientation they should adopt.

"No matter what they want, what they think, what they say – we need to stand up and vote freely," he told the audience of close to a hundred students from universities around Portugal.

The minister spoke at the end of a debate on ‘Communicating Europe in an election year’, at which a report on the Meetings with Citizens organised in Portugal was publicly presented.

Information, education, fake news and political manipulation were among themes in the debate, which was attended by Portugal’s secretary of state for European affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, the head of the European Commission's representation in Portugal, Sofia Alves, specialists and members of the Committee on European Affairs of Portugal’s parliament.

Alves highlighted measures already taken by EU institutions, such as agreements with companies that manage social networks and platforms to combat fake news and the creation of a rapid warning system involving member states for label misinformation on a timely basis.

"The manipulation of information obeys the four d’s: distract, distort, discourage [and] defraud, and if one does not act very quickly, in less than 24 hours, it is no longer possible," she said.

Elections for the European Parliament are scheduled for the period 23 to 26 May in EU member states.