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Countering foreign interference. S&Ds secure strong INGE committee recommendations

Date

25 Jan 2022

Sections

Global Europe

Today, the members of the European Parliament special Committee on Foreign Interference and Disinformation (INGE)* - set up on the S&Ds’ initiative in 2020 - voted on its final draft report on how to protect the democratic process from hostile foreign interference.

After a year and a half of investigative work and dozens of hearings, INGE’s report reveals the many loopholes and failings of the EU and its members, 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. To remedy this and to strengthen European resilience, the INGE committee proposes concrete solutions, including legislative and economic measures, as well as reinforcing media literacy and imposing sanctions against actors involved in disinformation campaigns.

The S&Ds secured solid recommendations in the report, including calls for stronger regulation of social media platforms, particularly regarding algorithms and common and stronger rules on financing of political parties. In addition, the S&Ds managed to expose the close links between Russia’s disinformation campaigns and domestic, mostly extreme right groupings, like Austrian FPÖ, the French Rassemblement National and Italian Lega. Moreover, the report also 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 special INGE committee, said:

"The situation is much worse than we originally expected. Russia, China, and other authoritarian states are trying to weaken European democracies from within. They use social media companies, economic pressures and even European political parties, mostly on the far right, to try to destabilize our model of liberal open democracy.

“During the hearings, we identified different episodes of recent efforts of interference from third state and non-state actors. Particularly shocking was how much the extreme right throughout Europe is at the service of Vladimir Putin's Russia! We also managed to expose how social media platforms are used to spread disinformation, and how energy and supply chain dependency makes us vulnerable to authoritarian states.

“Since we set up the INGE committee, it has been important for us to not only expose these hostile practices, but also to put concrete policy and reform proposals on the table, on how to deal with foreign interference campaigns. We 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. We also proposed a ban on foreign donations for political activities in the whole EU, and to prohibit shell companies, used to hide the origin of funding. Finally, we also identified a worrying role played by countries like Serbia or Hungary, helping China and Russia with their geopolitical objectives and to widely spread disinformation throughout the Western Balkans.

“Therefore, we need more EU action to counter their interference campaigns that spread anti-EU sentiment and tries to destabilize the whole region.

“We call on the Commission and the member states to now translate our findings into concrete legislative proposals to prepare our continent to effectively counter those campaigns.”

Pierfrancesco Majorino, S&D coordinator in the special INGE committee, added:

“With the INGE report, the European Parliament finally sends a very clear and unequivocal message against foreign interference in democratic processes and puts forward unequivocal proposals to counter any kind of interference. For too long we have been underestimating the effects of disinformation campaigns on the EU and its member.

“The S&D Group has 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.

“Now, 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."

Note to the editors:

*The S&D Group proposed and advocated for a special Parliamentary committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE) that was established in 2020 and is chaired by the S&D MEP Raphaël Glucksmann.  The plenary vote of its final report is scheduled for March 2022.

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