Saturday

8th May 2021

Opinion

Close loopholes on foreign funding of EU political parties

  • The hard-right Alternative for German (AfD) in November 2020 was ordered to pay a penalty of more than €500,000 to the Bunestag's administration for illegal donations received from outside the EU (Photo: strassenstriche.net)

When we look at disinformation and 'foreign interference', we mostly think in terms of foreign state actors spreading fake news and harmful content to discredit and destabilise individual member states and to weaken the EU altogether.

They surely do. And they do it well by using fake accounts, troll factories, or half-disguised pseudo-news websites, or would-be independent TV channels.

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  • Sandra Kalniete MEP: 'We urgently need to look also into existing legislation on the funding of European political parties and foundations' (Photo: European Commission)

It is very good that we have started to tackle these developments right across the democratic world, e.g. by looking into the responsibility of social media platforms also contemplating regulatory action.

Yet, another approach by malicious foreign actors - that tends to be overlooked - is to undermine liberal democracy from within.

Over the last years, we have seen a steady rise of radical and populist political parties in almost all EU member states.

Most radical parties have one aim in common: to discredit the merits of European integration and multi-lateral global cooperation, and to advance a revival of xenophobic nationalist policies.

To counter those ambitions, all democratic parties need to act firmly across the political spectrum in debunking the myths of 'easy nationalism' and what detrimental effects it can have on the cohesion of society.

There are a few lessons we can learn from the recent American experience.

At the same time, however, we need to act equally firmly on the transparency of the financial resources political actors have.

This we must do in the field of national and European legislation.

There are two issues that merit particular attention: the financing of political parties and foundations, and the financing of political advertising. Without tackling the current loopholes in the financial rules, our fight against disinformation and foreign interference would be useless.

At national level, there should be common EU-wide understanding for the oversight of different financing schemes surrounding political activities.

For the moment, the legislation on the ground is quite different, and often not sufficient - which allows for opaque ways of financing. Often, these loopholes provide ample opportunity for political actors to receive resources from abroad.

And even if certain types of financing prove to be illegal, they often only surface after the event, if at all, when the party in question has already managed a substantial number of seats in a parliament, such as in the case of the Alternative for German (AfD) in Germany which, in November 2020, was ordered to pay a penalty of more than €500,000 to the national parliament's administration for illegal donations received from outside the EU.

At the European level, we urgently need to look also into existing legislation on the funding of European political parties and foundations.

We have had some negative experience particularly with radical parties (the National Front of France, now the National Rally, had to pay back €650,000 of salaries in 2017 for abusing money designated for the operational work in the European Parliament for party work and campaign financing in France domestically), and it is time we fully overhaul the status quo.

The European Commission should propose a draft for a revised Regulation 1141/2014 as soon as possible.

Further in the area of financing, we must create more transparency in the area of political advertising.

This is of huge importance for the whole online advertisement business. The lion-share of income for the platform giants and the online media is generated from advertisement revenues. So this issue ought to be a priority for liberal democracy as a whole and the reputation of the online companies alike.

Disinformation and foreign interference is multi-facetted. Transparency in the financing of political actors is one key element in our fight against opaque resources we must not miss.

Author bio

Sandra Kalniete is a Latvian MEP with the European People's Party, the European Parliament rapporteur on the special committee on foreign interference and disinformation, and a former foreign minister of Latvia.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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