What the EU can do against Russian interference – DW

Are the governments of the European Union ready to fight foreign interference, especially Russian interference? On March 12, the European Parliament hosted a question-and-answer session with Vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourová.

The European Commission outlined three main risks: cyberattacks, foreign interference, and manipulation through digital technologies or covert manipulation, including disinformation. The current targets of these activities are the EU elections and support for Ukraine, DW reported.

Interference in elections

“Our foreign adversaries have a specific strategy for each EU country. Of course, first of all, we should mention Russia, but there are also China, Iran, and other actors who are trying to interfere in our electoral processes or influence them,” Jourová said.

She asked the MPs not to underestimate these risks, “because we see that if a failure occurs in one country, it affects the entire EU.” The European Commissioner is convinced that there will be attempts at foreign interference during the June elections to the European Parliament, and to a greater or lesser extent in every EU country. 

She is also sure that Russian president Vladimir Putin has a specific plan for this. Jourová called him “a master at creating different strategies for different EU countries” and “analyzing where to attack, what narratives to use, through which allies, internal intermediaries, and useful idiots.”

Undermining support for Ukraine

According to the Vice President of the European Commission, an information war is underway in which Russia is taking concrete measures to influence European public opinion “to convince or push politicians to stop supporting Ukraine.”

She noted that it may be increasingly difficult for heads of state and government and ministers in the EU countries to support Kyiv because society is under constant pressure from Russian propaganda, which seeks to cut off this assistance.

Putin needs people who can deliver propaganda in their native language, so he uses those willing to cooperate in each EU country, Jourová says. These are either individuals, parties, or movements.

“We already see parliamentary parties and, unfortunately, some parties that are part of the governments of EU member states that do not hesitate to spread pro-Kremlin narratives in their societies. This is happening through intermediaries, which means that we cannot just blame Russia, but we also have to have a tough discussion with those who are obviously on the side of the aggressor,” the Vice President of the European Commission said.

At the request of one of the MEPs, Jourová refused to name these mediators.

Russian agents and spies

Russian disinformation is everywhere—on television, in the press, and on social media, said German MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel.

“Russia’s army of bots is bigger than its army of people. They operate in Africa, South America, and the Middle East, cooperating with Russia,” the parliamentarian said.

“We should not underestimate Russia’s army of spies and agents. They are not only in embassies, but also in our state institutions in the EU. Russia also has hitmen and hired killers who kill enemies of the regime,” Jourová added.

The Vice President of the European Commission described all these factors as a combination of extremely dangerous phenomena in the EU.

“As for the army of bots, the law on artificial intelligence and other acts make it very clear that artificial intelligence, bots, and robots do not have freedom of speech,” the European Commissioner said.

It is up to the member states themselves to respond to spies, as it is a matter of national security. In some EU countries, espionage is considered a criminal offense, while others are “more tolerant.” According to the Commissioner, national legislation should be stricter in this area. 

What measures is the EU taking?

“Russia is winning the information war in Africa, South America, and the Middle East, and we must accelerate our response in order to spread our way of thinking and vision of the world,” stated Věra Jourová.

According to her, the European Union itself has been developing large-scale activities to study and counter disinformation since 2015, exposing tens of thousands of cases to a multimillion-person audience.

Among the EU’s legislative measures, Jourová mentioned the Law on Digital Services and the Code on Combating Disinformation. The European Commissioner is confident that full compliance will reduce the impact of foreign interference. The democracy protection package dedicates another new bill to the representation of interests.

“If there are any contracts between third-country governments and European organizations or organizations operating in the European market, we need to know about them. Therefore, Jourová explained, “We propose a directive to achieve maximum transparency of these contracts and their purposes of conclusion.”

She claims that during the EU Council debate, only one country declared that there should be no regulations in this area.

In addition, there is a transparency register that records lobbyists. Based on specific cases where “Russian organizations have been actively lobbying and participating in the legislative process,” Jourová suggested that the MEPs of the next convocation should decide whether to improve this register. Additionally, the EU is establishing an ethics body to track gifts and travel that could potentially corrupt officials.

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