‘Her presence is disrespectful’ – Paddy Cosgrave rescinds Le Pen invite to Web Summit
Paddy Cosgrave’s Web Summit has rescinded his invitation to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen to its main technology conference in Lisbon.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Cosgrave said that he made the new decision “based on advice we have received and the large reaction online overnight”.
“Her presence is disrespectful in particular to our host country. It is also disrespectful to some of the many tens of thousands of attendees who join us from around the world,” he wrote.
“The issue of hate, freedom of expression and platform technologies is one of the defining questions of 2018. We will redouble our efforts to approach this difficult issue at Web Summit with more care.”
He also said that his team welcomes suggestions for more “appropriate” speakers to speak at the event.
The original invitation provoked a backlash as, in a web-posting last night, Mr Cosgrave said Ms Le Pen had been invited, with other “policy-makers, politicians, tech CEOs, regulators and academics” to debate their views at Forum, a subsection of the Web Summit, in November.
“In total there will be more than 1,000 speakers at Web Summit 2018.
“As has always been the case with speakers who express what might be considered offensive viewpoints, they are explicitly not invited to speak on our centre stage, nor on our more than 20 other primary stages.
“They appear instead on our smallest stages at Forum,” he said.
“Militant anarchists, leftist trade union leaders, right-wing populists and libertarians” would attend the event, a showcase for the technology industry. Mr Cosgrave defended the invitation to Ms Le Pen, comparing it to a university debating society and on free speech grounds.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right within the European Union and a basic cornerstone of any democratic society,” he said.
At the time. he added that he would cancel the invitation if requested by the Portuguese government: “Should our hosts in Portugal, the Portuguese government, ask us to cancel Marine Le Pen’s invitation, we will of course respect that request and immediately do so.”
Last year, Mr Cosgrave was forced to apologise after holding a WebSummit banquet in Lisbon’s National Pantheon, a site of tombs for revered national figures.
Portuguese prime minister António Costa described the event as “unworthy of the respect due” at the site.
The Web Summit received €1.3m from the Portuguese government to relocate.