Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

MEPs call for 'proper' EU counter-propaganda unit

  • "A large part of Kremlin propaganda is aimed at describing some European countries as belonging to Russia's traditional sphere of influence" (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Parliament has urged the EU to expand its counter-propaganda unit in reaction to Russian and jihadist disinformation campaigns.

It issued the call in a report by Polish conservative MEP and former foreign minister Anna Fotyga, which was endorsed by the foreign affairs committee on Monday (10 October).

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Fotyga’s report called “for the EU Strategic Communication Task Force to be reinforced by turning it into a fully-fledged unit within the EEAS [EU foreign service], responsible for the eastern and for the southern neighbourhoods, with proper staffing and adequate budgetary resources”.

The task force was created last summer for an initial period of two years.

It contains a handful of EU officials and seconded diplomats, does not have its own budget, and is constrained to working in EU states and in six former Soviet countries only.

It produces regular “mythbusting” updates on Russian propaganda which have attracted a growing audience on social media.

Among other proposals, Fotyga's report, which is non-binding, says the EU should “conduct a thorough audit of the efficiency of certain big scale media projects” that it funds “such as Euronews”.

The mention of the French-based broadcaster comes amid concern in EU diplomatic circles that its Russian-language service has become another Kremlin propaganda outlet.

Fotyga’s report said there was a “rapid expansion of Kremlin-inspired activities in Europe” that were “seeking to maintain or increase Russia's influence [and] to weaken and split the EU”.

It said that Russia devoted “huge resources” to “propaganda activities”, such as multilingual TV stations and “pseudo news agencies”, but also to funding pro-Russian think tanks and expat groups in Europe, and to funding anti-EU political parties.

At the same time, the Russian state is trying to stifle access to information at home, the report said.

“Since 1999, dozens of journalists have been killed, disappeared without trace or have been imprisoned in Russia”, it noted.

Fotyga’s report said that other regimes, such as Iran, Arab dictatorships, and Turkey, are “using strategies similar to those developed by the Kremlin”.

It also said that jihadist groups such as Islamic State (IS) “are engaged in active information campaigns with the aim to undermine and increase the level of hatred against European values and interests”.

It said the stratcomm task force should do the same kind of mythbusting, or “deconstruction”, on jihadist content as it does on Russian disinformation.

It urged EU states and institutions to generate a “counter-narrative” to IS “demonstrating how the promotion of radical Islam is theologically corrupt”.

It said “muslim scholars” with “credibility” should be involved in the project.

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One year after its launch, East Stratcom, the EU’s “tiny” counter-propaganda cell, has created a 20,000-strong following and could get a €1 million budget.

Opinion

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With the French and German elections at risk of Kremlin interference, it's time for the EU to start treating Russian propaganda as a serious threat.

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