EU democracy is under threat from foreign agents, MEPs say

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European democracy is under threat from foreign agents, particularly through wide-ranging disinformation and fake news campaign. This was the key conclusion of an extensive report drawn up by a Special Committee on Foreign Interference. This report was debated during the second day of the EP’s plenary session in Strasbourg, during which MEPs described independent fact-based journalism as the cornerstone of democracy.

Lack of EU measures, sanctions and awareness are allowing foreign actors to interfere in EU democracies, according to a report which is expected to get the backing of a majority of MEPs said. In this context, the Committee on Foreign Interference has proposed a set of measures, including sanctions to fight foreign meddling and disinformation and tightened rules for social media. The proposal encourages support for media and fact checker, the clarification of relations between European political parties and Russia and a ban on non-EU financing for national parties.

The draft text encourages support for media and fact checkers, the clarification of relations between certain European political parties and Russia, and a ban on non-EU financing for national parties. MEPs also propose making the foreign recruiting of former European top politicians more difficult, banning spy software such as Pegasus, and an urgent improvement of European cybersecurity.

Latvian MEP Sandra Kalniete, the Committee’s rapporteur, said at a press briefing that she regretted that when Baltic states raised alarm thhat developments in Russia were taking a worrying direction, these were dismissed. “Disinformation is the tip of the iceberg the invisible part – is a wide system of platforms, cybertools and deeper systems. The digital space is currently a ‘wild west’ where rule of law does not necessarily exist”.

Nearly six in ten Europeans are concerned about the possibility of ‘elections being manipulated through cyberattacks’. Just over one in two Europeans using the Internet (51%) consider that they have been exposed to ‘disinformation’ online, a recent Eurobarometer survey has found.

Addressing the plenary, Committee Chair Raphaël Glucksmann, a French MEP said that for twenty years, European elites did not want to see what Putin was doing at our borders and within the very heart of the EU. The Socialist MEP said that democracy is our common treasure but it is under systematic attack.

MEPs also highlighted the issue of foreign interference through social networks, highlighting that these platforms have a major responsibility when it comes to preventing dissemination of fake news and disinformation and hate speech, and called on institutions to negotiate the balance between individual freedoms and non-dissemination of fake news.

Responding to a position taken by the European Federation of Journalists that fighting disinformation with censorship is a mistake, Glucksmann insisted that channels like Russia Today is not ‘media’ but simply a tool, a part of the Russian war effort aiming to destroy not just Ukraine, but also democracies. The EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez had argued that “it is always better to counteract the disinformation of propagandist or allegedly propagandist media by exposing their factual errors or bad journalism, by demonstrating their lack of financial or operational independence, by highlighting their loyalty to government interests and their disregard for the public interest”.

CDE News – Strasbourg

Image Alexis HAULOT © European Union 2022 – Source : EP

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