Monday

21st Aug 2017

EU to step up effort against Russian and Islamist propaganda

  • An Iraqi soldier in front of an Islamic State flag near Mosul. The EU wants to counter IS narrative. (Photo: Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani)

The EU must step up efforts to counter Russian disinformation in Europe, MEPs have said in alarming tones.

"We are really in a state of war with Russia, we I mean EU citizens,” Jaromir Stetina, a Czech centre-right MEP said on Tuesday (31 January).

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"There are no bombs, tanks, missiles, but we are in a war, because this is a hybrid war, and disinformation is a part of this hybrid warfare," he said.

"This is a war that the Russian federation declared on us, the goal is to destroy the European Union, and we have to defend it," he added.

Stetina, who spoke at a European Parliament hearing that he helped to organise, said East StratCom, a counter-propaganda unit in the EU foreign service, needed better resources.

The task-force, set up in September 2015, employs 11 people, most of whose contracts expire in August, and has no budget of its own.

Its mandate is to debunk fake Russian news, better communicate EU policy, and support independent media in eastern European and former Soviet countries.

Jakub Kalensky, a member of the unit said Russia had “an orchestrated campaign.”

He said it was “targeting millions of people in the EU and the euro-atlantic space on a daily basis using the method of repeating a lie a hundred times until it becomes truth.”

“The aim of this disinformation campaign is to weaken, to divide, to destabilise the West: either along existing divides or by creating new ones," he said.

Kalensky said his team monitor around 35 countries, so it would be useful to have one staff member per country.

"It it is also naive to expect that a team in Brussels will quickly spot a story ... The more local the team, the faster the reaction, if there would be an anti-propaganda centre in every EU country, it would be much more effective probably," he said.

He declined to say how much money the task force would need to do an adequate job, but he cited a US figure that Russia spends $1.4 billion a year on propaganda abroad.

Polish centre-right MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski said that lies spread by pro-Kremlin outlets were circulating on the European political scene.

"The problem is that lies are not only present in mainstream media, but in our political life," he said.

"Those lies win elections, those lies govern, and I hear them from the mouth of between 100-140 members of this house, who use the Kremlin’s narrative here," he said.

"We are under threat, democracy is losing, it is not at risk of losing, it is losing,” he said.

Saryusz-Wolski said the EU should transform East StratCom into an agency, provide proper funding, and create counter-propaganda centres in every member state.

He said there was greater political will for this than in the past, but that it might take a shock to cause change.

"We will need some lost elections to have sobering effects," he said.

The Netherlands, France, and Germany are holding elections this year.

Far-right, anti-EU, and pro-Russian parties are becoming increasingly popular in all three of them and pro-Russian websites have already started attacking German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The EU parliament event came amid questions on Russian influence in the US presidential elections last year.

Playing with sentiments

Experts on Russian propaganda said Kremlin outlets give a one-sided presentation of the story that aimed to trigger emotions.

"One important part [of the disinformation] is not to spread false facts, but opinions, and controversial issues to be presented in a stereotypical, one sided way," Boris Navasardian from the Eastern Parnership Civil Society Forum said.

He said it was tailored to appeal to local taste.

On Brexit, Georgians saw stories on how Ukraine and Georgia would only become EU members when everybody else had left.

Moldovans were told that the EU did not want their exports.

Miriam Lexmann of the US-based NGO the International Republican Institute, said Russia media tried to create phobias.

"Accurate fact and playing with sentiments is more dangerous than only providing fake news," she said.

Kalensky said that another Russian tactic was to spread as many contradictory versions of the same story as possible to divert attention from facts and to sow mistrust in normal media.

"The aim is to bury the fact under the contradictions, so that a regular reader ends up convinced he, she will never know where is the truth," he said, citing Russia’s handling of the MH17 flight disaster as an example.

Prague attacked

Meanwhile, the Czech foreign minister said Tuesday that his minitsry had been hacked by a foreign nation.

Lubomir Zaoralek said no classified information was stolen as hackers got into the email system, but not into more sensitive files.

"The data leak was considerable. The attack was very sophisticated," Zaoralek was quoted as saying by AFP.

"It must have been carried out from the outside, by another country. The way it was done bears a very strong resemblance to the attacks on the US Democratic Party's internet system," said the foreign minister.

'I thought I was safe in Europe'

Arrest of Turkish dissident has again highlighted the way rogue regimes use Interpol to hunt their enemies inside the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Austria has begun checks at Italian border
  2. Slovenian PM: Brexit talks will take longer than expected
  3. Merkel backs diesel while report warns of economic harm
  4. UK to publish new Brexit papers this week
  5. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  6. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  7. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  8. European Union returns to 2 percent growth

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides
  2. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  3. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  4. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  6. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  7. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  8. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  9. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  10. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  11. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead