European Parliament calls on EU to strengthen defences against disinformation and elite capture

INGE Special Committee investigation finds lack of risk awareness against malign foreign interference in European democracy and society
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By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

28 Jan 2022

The Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE) adopted its final recommendations this week after 18 months of inquiry.

The European public as well as government officials are “overwhelmingly” unaware of the severity of the threat posed by foreign autocratic regimes, in particular Russia and China, the report, drafted by Sandra Kalniete (LV, EPP), states.

It goes on to explain that it was made easier for malicious actors to take over critical infrastructure, carry out cyber-attacks, recruit former senior politicians and cause polarisation in the public debate by insufficient defence mechanisms in place. The situation is exacerbated by loopholes in legislation and not enough coordination between EU countries.

The rapporteur commented: "Our investigations have yielded highly disturbing evidence of how malicious foreign actors attack our democracies across every possible sphere and domain of society”.

She added that it was “even more troubling” to realise that “not only lawmakers, but our entire societies lack key awareness, and our public debates, legislation, and individual engagement are not at the levels needed to effectively counter foreign interference”.

To address the threats, INGE members urge the EU to raise public awareness through training for people in sensitive functions as well as general information campaigns.

Our investigations have yielded highly disturbing evidence of how malicious foreign actors attack our democracies across every possible sphere and domain of society”

Sandra Kalniete, MEP

The EU should also significantly enhance its capabilities, particularly concerning cybersecurity, build a sanctions regime against disinformation and ban foreign funding of European political parties.

In addition, the report recommends the support of “broadly distributed, pluralistic media and fact-checkers”, and for online platforms to invest in language skills to be able to act on illegal and harmful content in all EU languages.

Directly concerning state-sponsored threats emanating from Beijing and Moscow, alternatives to Chinese foreign direct investment, which is used as a geopolitical tool, and addressing “highly inappropriate” relations between certain European political parties and Russia are suggested.

INGE chair Raphaël Glucksmann (S&D, FR) commented: “Foreign hostile actors have declared hybrid warfare on the Union and its Member States. The report makes a series of important recommendations to protect our democracies and ensure European sovereignty”.

The Special Committee now calls on the Commission and the Council to implement the recommendations “without losing time”, Glucksmann added.

Greens/EFA Group INGE member Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield underlined the priorities of her group in a tweet on the day of the final committee vote:

For the Renew Europe Group, the leader of its Hungarian member party Momentum, Anna Júlia Donáth, equally focussed on the Pegasus surveillance scandal, as revealed in her home country and in Poland. But she also underlined the report’s criticism of the Hungarian government’s plans to establish a campus of the Chinese Fudan University in Budapest.

The report was adopted in committee with 25 votes, eight against and one abstention, and is scheduled to be voted on in plenary during the March session.