Friday

27th Nov 2020

EU diplomats to get training on 'fake news'

  • "Disinformation is a risk for the EU and we are ready to tackle it", Muresan said (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The EU will spend €1.1 million on training diplomats to monitor fake news, amid growing alarm on Russian propaganda.

The funds, as well as related measures worth another €3.8 million, will be rubber-stamped by member states on Wednesday (29 November) and by the European Parliament on Thursday as part of next year's EU budget, Siegfried Muresan, the MEP in charge of the file, told EUobserver.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"We've already received a positive evaluation from the European Commission, so I am confident that it's going to be a success," he said.

He said the €1.1 million will be funnelled to the EU foreign service, whose so-called Stratcom unit will use it to train staff in Commission offices in selected member states and in EU embassies in former Soviet countries and in the Western Balkans.

"We need to be able to connect the dots. If a eurosceptic politician is saying something and we see that these were actually talking points on fake news websites two weeks earlier, then we need to be aware of that," Muresan, a centre-right Romanian politician, said.

He said the €1.1 million training budget was part of a "comprehensive package of measures to tackle disinformation, Russian propaganda, and fake news".

The EU foreign service is to get another €800,000 for "strategic communication" in 2018, Muresan said.

The Commission is to receive a further €3 million "for information outreach on external relations", he added.

He told EUobserver he had initially called for €3 million for the Stratcom training programme alone. But he said if the 2018 "preparatory actions" went well, then the training funds would likely go up in 2019 and 2020.

"We have become aware that disinformation is a risk for the EU and we're ready to tackle it," he said.

"Our commitment to tackle disinformation is a long-term goal and we will continue to allocate financial resources for it in the years to come," Muresan added.

Stratcom is a group of 22 diplomats and officials inside the EU foreign service whose main task is to debunk Russian propaganda and to promote positive EU media coverage in the former Soviet bloc.

An EU diplomat said the training budget would be useful.

"It would give the [EU] foreign service a better insight into what's going on out there. If it comes, for instance to monitoring Hungarian-language media, it would be much better if it was being done by someone on the ground in Hungary than in Stratcom's office in Brussels," he said.

Stratcom currently works with volunteers in local NGOs and media, but the new budget would help to "professionalise" the input, he noted.

Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign service chief, has also said she will ask EU finance ministers for more money for Stratcom in early 2018.

The EU diplomat said this could be spent on data analysis tools to see "what the dozens of thousands of [Russian] sources are talking about".

He said it could also be spent on in-depth reports by outside firms, such as Semantic Visions, a Czech company, on issues such as Russia's portrayal of terrorist attacks inside the EU.

But he was sceptical whether Muresan or Mogherini's requests would lead to more staff for Stratcom's Russia team or a permanent budget line for the unit as a whole.

He said "about one third of member states basically still denies that this problem [of Russian propaganda] exists".

He said that if member states agreed to give more resources, these would probably go to Stratcom South, a Stratcom cell that dealt with Islamist radicalisation, instead of Stratcom East, which dealt with Russia.

"Stratcom might get more staff this time next year, so long as it's for people who don't do anything on Russian disinformation", the EU diplomat said.

Russia warnings

Some EU leaders, such as Britain's Theresa May, spoke out on Russian propaganda at last week's summit in Brussels.

But Russia has quietly warned the EU that if it increased Stratcom's capabilities this could "harm relations".

Andrey Kelin, a senior Russian diplomat, delivered the message to Thomas Mayr-Harting, Mogherini's right-hand man on Russia, on 17 November in Moscow in the margins of a 30th anniversary party for a Russian think tank, the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Maja Kocijancic, Mogherini's spokeswoman, said the Kelin "consultations" had changed nothing, however.

"When it comes to stratcomms, our line is clear," Kocijancic said.

EU Commission to target fake news

Mariya Gabriel, the EU digital economy commissioner, announces expert panel and says fake news can be tackled if people are given credible and diverse information.

EU told to create coalition against fake news

After almost two months of talks, a panel of experts set up by the EU commission have issued a series of recommendations on how to fight fake news or what they prefer to term 'disinformation'.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit talks pick up pace once more
  2. MEPs back US trade detente
  3. Iran diplomat to stand trial in Belgium over 'France bomb plot'
  4. Trump says he'll leave if Biden wins Electoral College vote
  5. EU Parliament: Polish abortion ban risks womens' lives
  6. UN experts warn against racial profiling
  7. EU auditors raise red flag over maritime protection
  8. Four students charged in France's beheading case

Opinion

The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE

An internal power struggle has undermined the world's leading international security body since the summer. The OSCE is due to finally get new leaders in December but the unprecedented power vacuum has hit at a crunch time for hotspots worldwide.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  2. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  4. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector

Latest News

  1. Erdoğan jails hundreds for life, as EU weighs relations
  2. Italian energy giant director advising EU foreign policy chief
  3. Poland and Hungary say rule-of-law link needs treaty change
  4. Portuguese presidency to focus on social rights and India
  5. The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE
  6. Poland hammered on women's rights in EU debate
  7. EU 'front-line' states want clearer migration rules
  8. Von der Leyen tells Poland and Hungary to go to court

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us