Strasbourg, 9 March 2022
The EU’s lack of awareness and counter-measures makes interference an attractive tactic for malicious foreign actors and endangers democracy, say MEPs.
Parliament’s inquiry into mapping how malicious foreign powers manipulate information and interfere in the EU to undermine democratic processes concluded that malicious actors can, without fear of consequences, influence elections, carry out cyber-attacks, recruit former senior politicians and advance polarisation in public debate.
The report by the Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE) says that a general lack of awareness of the severity of foreign interference and information manipulation, overwhelmingly carried out by Russia and China, is exacerbated by loopholes in legislation and insufficient coordination between EU countries.
In the ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine, the Russian government has demonstrated that “even information can be weaponised” as Russia spreads “disinformation of an unparalleled malice and magnitude” to deceive its citizens and the international community about the war.. Parliament welcomes the recently-introduced EU-wide ban on Russian propaganda outlets such as Sputnik TV and RT.
It urges the EU to create a common strategy to face the challenge of disinformation, including by putting in place specific sanctions related to foreign interference and disinformation campaigns . MEPs also insist on involving civil society organisations in raising public awareness and spreading general information, as seen for example in the best practice example of Taiwan, and they underline the need for global action with like-minded partners.
In addition, Parliament recommends the following measures:
- broadly distributed, pluralistic, independent media, journalists, fact checkers and researchers should receive public funding;
- consideration given to revoking the licenses of organisations distributing foreign state propaganda;
- forcing social media platforms, which serve as vehicles for foreign interference, to stop boosting inauthentic accounts that drive the spread of harmful foreign interference, including in languages other than English;
- European universities should reconsider their cooperation with Confucius Institutes, which are Chinese lobby platforms;
- seek clarification on “highly inappropriate” relations between certain European political parties and Russia;
- ban foreign funding of European and national political parties;
- urgently improve cybersecurity, list surveillance software such as Pegasus as illegal; and
- make it harder for foreign actors to recruit former top politicians after they have left their job.
The report was adopted with 552 votes, 81 against and 60 abstentions. For more detailed recommendations, click here.
“While the war is ongoing in Ukraine, online platforms and tech companies need to take a stand by suspending accounts that deny, glorify or justify aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the long term, we need a clear strategy from the European Commission and truly binding EU rules on accountability and transparency for online platforms. Resilience must be our protective shield – we should invest massively in supporting independent quality media, including in the EU’s neighbourhood”, Rapporteur Sandra Kalniete (EPP, LV) said.
“For twenty years, fed by the myth of the End of History, convinced that they no longer have enemies, European elites have shown a puzzling naivety and culpable flippancy. This committee, set up to end this indolence, has worked to wake Europe up so that our democracies learn to defend themselves”, said Chair Raphaël Glucksmann (S&D, FR).
The Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE) was set up in June 2020. After roughly 50 hearings with around 130 experts, the committee’s one-and-a-half-year mandate lapses on 23 March.
EbS video extracts from the debate and results of the vote
Renew Europe: Putin´s war had already begun. The EU must act now to protect its citizens, democracy and peace against foreign interference and disinformation
MARCH 9, 2022
The Renew Europe Group in the European Parliament asks for strong countermeasures against authoritarian regimes’ interference attempts in the EU. As the war in Ukraine has shown once again, Europe needs to do more to defend itself against hybrid threats, election-meddling, disinformation and cyber-attacks. Foreign actors, like Russia, use state-based media as propaganda machine, social media platforms, political parties, public figures and organizations to spread falsehoods, extend control and legitimize its positions.
Renew Europe played an important role in drafting the final report of the Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE). Adopted by a large majority in plenary today, the report lays the groundwork for a comprehensive EU policy approach and strategy to tackle foreign interference and disinformation. Most notably, the report calls for more support to journalists and fact-checkers, the end of autoregulation of social media platforms, strong enforcement of the DSA, when adopted, and the EU Code of Practice for Disinformation and an effective framework for international countermeasures, all of which were key points secured by our group.
MEP Bart GROOTHUIS (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, The Netherlands), Renew Europe shadow rapporteur on the report, says:
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been preluded by a hybrid conflict in Ukraine as well as in the rest of Europe. Russia launched cyber-attacks, bought political influence and started severe disinformation campaigns. China has copied many of it. That calculus must be reversed. Renew has contributed significantly to the ideas to make our most valuable assets more resilient and providing new ways of communicating the norm to our adversaries. Now it’s time for the EU to act.”
MEP Nathalie LOISEAU (Liste Renaissance, France), Renew coordinator of the INGE Committee, says:
“For many years, Ukraine has been the target of Russian disinformation, interference, corruption, harassment and cyberattacks. Yet, Ukraine has chosen a path, the path of democracy, the path of respect for European values we all share. It is because Ukraine is a democracy that it is attacked by Russia. And today, all our democracies face foreign interference and disinformation. We must now act swiftly and with force to protect our citizens, our democracy and peace in Europe”.
Stop malign foreign actors from interfering in our democracies! EP to adopt strong report by INGE Special Committee set up on the S&Ds’ initiative
March 8, 2022
Tomorrow, the members of the European Parliament will vote on the final draft report by the Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE), set up on the S&Ds’ initiative in 2020.
The S&Ds secured solid recommendations in the report – the result of 18 months of investigative work and dozens of hearings – on how to protect our EU democracies and open societies from hostile foreign actors like Russia or China. The recommendations include calls for stronger rules for social media platforms, particularly regarding algorithms, and common and stronger rules on financing of political parties, including a ban on foreign donations for political activities in the EU. The S&Ds also managed to include a call to ban foreign takeovers of European companies with detrimental effects to the EU’s security and to abolish the lowest bidder principle.
The report also exposes the close links between Russia’s disinformation campaigns and European mostly extreme right parties, like the Austrian FPÖ, the French Rassemblement National and Italian Lega. Moreover, it shines a light on the technique of elite capture of top-level civil servants and former EU politicians by foreign companies with links to authoritarian governments.
Andreas Schieder, S&D MEP and negotiator in the INGE Special Committee, said:
“The problem of disinformation and foreign interference is much bigger than we have ever dared to believe. Putin’s war against Ukraine is the endpoint of an information war by Russia that has been going on for years. It is time to take urgent action to plug the many loopholes of the EU and its members, to counter hostile tactics by authoritarian regimes and to preserve our democracies and our European model of life. Without any doubt, this battle on disinformation cannot be left to platforms alone.
“Particularly important for our political family is to tighten rules regarding the social media algorithms and on party financing. It is shocking just how much the extreme right throughout Europe is at the service of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This must stop. This is why we need a ban on foreign donations for political activities in the EU. We also urge for more EU action in the Western Balkans to counter Russia and China’s interference campaigns that spread anti-EU sentiment and try to destabilise the whole region.”
Raphaël Glucksmann, S&D MEP and chair of the INGE Special Committee, said:
“Democracy is our common treasure, the framework in which our differences and disagreements can be expressed, where our debates and struggles live. This framework is vital. But it is also fragile.
“Our European democracies are targets of interference by hostile authoritarian regimes, such as that of Vladimir Putin. The aim of interference is to exploit the vulnerabilities of our open, egalitarian and cosmopolitan societies, to undermine trust in institutions and public discourse, and ultimately to polarize and weaken democracies. These actions are part of a new strategy: the hybrid warfare.
“This issue has a particular resonance today, when the Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom. The final report is an important step in raising collective awareness and calls for the urgent implementation of concrete measures.”
Pierfrancesco Majorino, S&D MEP and coordinator of the INGE Special Committee, added:
“Our democracy is a unique and precious asset that we must never take for granted and must always strive to defend. That is why the S&Ds pushed for this INGE Special Committee to be established. After 18 months of intensive work, I can say that we accomplished our objectives. The report proposes concrete measures to beef up our Union to counter tactics like disinformation campaigns, manipulations, targeted hackings and hybrid threats used by foreign authoritarian powers to attack the foundations of European democratic societies.
“We have succeeded in including important elements in the report such as greater accountability of platforms, the central role of media literacy, the protection of the entire electoral process, greater regulation of funding for political parties and actors, and the affirmation of transparency as an absolute guarantee to be demanded of anyone developing relations with the outside world.
“But, it is clear that we cannot stop here. The European Parliament must continue to be a fundamental democratic watchdog and to be vigilant over all phenomena of foreign interference. I am very glad the work of the INGE Special Committee will continue for another year. Democracy must be safeguarded, from any interference.”
Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate
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Good morning, dear Mr Chairman, dear Members of the Committee, dear Members of the European Parliament attending this debate,
We are witnessing how Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues, and this assault painfully highlights why we need to pay more attention to foreign interference, and in particular to foreign disinformation and information manipulation. This poses a clear threat to our democracy, to our stability, to our security – and we need to address it. So, I therefore very much welcome your report and the work of the Special Committee on Foreign Interference.
Information manipulation and interferences is something that the Russian propaganda machine is actively using to accompany Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, spreading false information among their own population about why this invasion has taken place and what is the situation in Ukraine.
Over the last weeks, much before the invasion started, the Kremlin’s outlets were preparing the ground, by reversing the cause and consequences of this aggression and portraying Russia and the Russian people as a kind of victim: “Genocide”; “[The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr] Zelensky is committing genocide. Zelensky is a criminal, is a puppet in the hands of the Western people, and when they come to Kyiv, they will do a second Nuremberg, in order to clean Ukraine of the Nazis who are committing genocide against Russian people”. This is the kind of things that they are systematically spreading. Undermining the legitimacy of the democratically elected Ukrainian Government, presenting them as the result of a “coup d’Etat”, who came to power not through elections but through a “coup d’Etat”: “he is a criminal, a war criminal, he is a Nazi, he is a dictator”. And also distorting historical facts. Well, history can be interpreted in very different ways, but to consider that Zelensky is a war criminal and Nazi who is committing genocide against the Russian people is not a matter of historial interpretation.
The Kremlin and its outlets are systematically lying about the situation, about the military situation and about the suffering of the Ukrainian population. They claim systematically that the Ukrainian authorities are bombing their own citizens or provoking nuclear incidents in order to blame Russia. Systematically, these kind of news are being spread. Also, the alleged “Russo-phobia” that the state-affiliated media report on is another thing that people in Russia listen to. Let me say once again, our measures are against the Russian leadership, not against the Russian people, and the current situation is a result of President [Vladimir] Putin’s actions. And if he wants, he can solve it by just stopping the war.
The state media and “the ecosystem” around them are being used as instruments to push these narratives, to manipulate and to mislead. And they are an integral part of the aggression – it not just bombing houses, infrastructure, the bodies of the people; they are bombing their minds, they are bombing their spirits. The Russian leadership is cracking down on independent media, on civil society, has banned Twitter, has banned Facebook and a number of foreign media to be able to operate in Russia. The Kremlin has introduced a law criminalising what they call “fake” information about the war in Ukraine. It can cost you 15 years in jail, targeting also international journalists who are doing their vital work in Russia. As a consequence, they deprive the Russian citizens of any access to independent media, to independent information about what is happening in Ukraine and how the Russian armed forces are behaving.
So Russia is moving towards a complete isolation of its citizens from information coming from the outside world. They are putting them in a bubble, isolating them in order to not allow them to know what is happening.
The international community has come together in response to President [of Russia, Vladimir] Putin’s senseless war in a coordinated and decisive manner. And, I am proud to see that the European Union has been able to show its capacity to deliver in this field also.
We have been able to do this because we are not working from scratch. It comes from 2015. When leaders of the European Union recognised the threat of foreign information and misinformation coming from Russia – in 2015, it is seven years ago. Then they tasked the High Representative to address this challenge. We created, in the European External Action Service, teams of people, with the capacities and expertise that has been developed in the last seven years, allowing us to take today decisive steps to tackle this issue.
We have built a strong Stratcom Team, which is doing, I think, an excellent work. You will judge it. It has been praised in your reports. Thank you for that. We have been strengthening our proactive public communication to provide factual information, not least through our EUvsDisinfo(link is external) website, which exposes the Kremlin narratives. Go to this website, use our EUvsDisinfo(link is external) website and you will find there registered hundreds of disinformation cases in European countries: Germany and the United Kingdom, in France, in Italy and Spain. Targeting a variety of issues like elections, vaccines, about Brexit, or about the secessionist movements in some European [Union] Member States.
We have increased our cooperation with partners like NATO and the G7 to understand how the Kremlin destabilises and manipulates the information, weakening Ukraine and our Western resolve. We have a Rapid Alert System that has proven its importance, allowing to swiftly share with EU institutions – with my colleagues from the European Commission with whom we are working closely and positively – EU Member States and also partners. Sharing analysis and debunking material. I insist, please, inform about the existence of this website, where hundreds of disinformation cases can be found.
We have intensified our work to help our partners in the region to tackle the issue of interference and information manipulation – especially in the Western Balkans, which are currently being targeted systematically by these campaigns.
Most importantly, we have imposed costs on the perpetrators, including through banning Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting in the European Union. Because they are not independent media; they are assets, they are weapons in the Kremlin’s manipulation ecosystem.
I want to stop here because there have been criticisms saying that we are attempting against the freedom of information. Let us consider what is information and what these outlets are. Let me take a moment to underline the essence of this issue. We are not trying to decide what is true and what is false. I am not the Minister of Truth; we do not have Ministers of Truth. What we have to focus on are foreign actors, who intentionally, in a coordinated manner, try to manipulate our information environment to advance their own purposes and to harm us.
Allow me to say this in Spanish.
La democracia es un sistema que funciona en base a la información. La información es el combustible de la democracia. Los ciudadanos actúan como ciudadanos en base a la información que reciben. En base a lo que saben, como interpretan la realidad, juzgan a sus gobernantes y deciden su voto. La democracia es un sistema cuyo combustible es la información. Si la información es mala, la democracia es mala. Si la información está sistemáticamente sesgada y contaminada por la mentira, los ciudadanos no pueden tener cabal conocimiento de la realidad y su juicio político está sesgado.
Por eso tenemos que defender que la información sea un bien protegido. Cuando usted va a comprar carne en un supermercado, tiene garantías sobre la calidad de ese producto, para evitar que consumirlo le produzca una enfermedad. Tiene que haber también alguna clase de garantía para que la información no sea un elemento que contamine las mentes.
La democracia funciona con la información y, por eso, Rusia ha creado Sputnik. Sputnik no es un inocente medio que tiene una determinada visión de la realidad.
Sputnik is not a media that understands things in a certain way. Sputnik was created by a Russian Presidential decree, with the aim to report on the state policy of Russia abroad. And according to Russia Today’s editor-in-chief, Russia Today is capable of conducting an information war against the whole Western world. Both channels [Sputnik and Russia Today] facilitate and engage in cyber-facilitated influence operations, including those that have been attributed to the Russian Military Intelligence, the famous GRU.
To be able to respond equally in a quick and decisive manner in the future, I will propose a new mechanism that will allow us to sanction those malign disinformation actors. This will be part of a broader toolbox that we are currently working on, to further enhance our capacity to act. This toolbox will be structured across four cross-cutting dimensions, improving our situational awareness. First, to build up our resilience and those of our partners, by stepping up our support to independent media and civil society in third countries and boosting the strategic communication capacities of our Delegations. Being that a tool of foreign policy I am always talking about third countries, as it is my colleagues from the Commission who are working inside European Union territories. But there is a lot of work to do in order to support our partners around the world.
Second, to ensure disruption of such malign activities and regulatory responses to them – the Code of Practice and the Digital Services Act, on which Vice-President [for Values and Transparency, Věra] Jourová will say more, are crucial elements in this regard.
I am not going to go deeper on this Code of Practice and Digital Services because Vice-President [for Values and Transparency, Věra] Jourová knows more than I about it.
And, last but not least, a continuous diplomatic response and instruments within the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Within our foreign policy we have to introduce the concept of information battles. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I coined the sentence “battle of narratives”. This battle of narratives is every day more important. Look at what is happening in Africa, what do you think? People are influenced by what they are being told. And at the end it goes up to the political scale and finally it converts in votes in the international institutions.
This brings me to the report by the INGE Committee, which I welcome so much. This report shows appreciation of the work that my service has been doing and constantly expanded on since we received this mandate by the [European] Council in 2015. I want to assure you that we take your recommendations very much into account, including your proposal for new structures to make our work even more efficient and sustainable.
I thank you a lot for your support. You have been very supportive of our strategic communication teams devoted to the Balkans, devoted to the Eastern border and how unhappily they are so much in the news.
Thank you for your support. We work together. This is a critical battle for democracy. Once again, allow me to say, democracy is a system that works on the basis of the information that a citizen has. That is why we have to protect the freedom of information and fight against disinformation.
Link to the video (starting as of 11:15): https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-219157