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13th Aug 2022

EU needs to 'raise price' for attacking democracy, MEPs say

  • French MEP Raphaël Glucksman said the reaction of EU institutions to foreign interference has been 'soft' (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU needs to make attacking European democracies a costly endeavour, a key MEP chairing the parliament's new committee on foreign interference warned on Tuesday (2 March).

"The regimes attacking our democracies - especially the Russian and the Chinese regime because they are the two main threats we can assess now - these regimes don't think they have to pay a price for these attacks," centre-left French MEP Raphaël Glucksman told journalists on the work of the committee's first months.

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"Until now, the reaction of our institutions has been soft, and therefore there is no deterrence," Glucksman warned.

He said "foreign actors, hostile regimes […] are organising an assault on our institutions, our civil debate, and our political elections".

The MEP added that this assault has to be met with "big changes" in EU institutions and Europe's foreign policy.

The special committee on foreign interference was only created last June, with the aim of assessing the foreign threat to European democracies - and identify possible tools to fight it.

Latvian centre-right MEP Sandra Kalniete, who is tasked with drawing up the final report, said that the recommendations would be ready for a vote in the committee in December.

Glucksman said that the most important measure to take is a change in the state of mind of Europeans.

"First of all, we start with a political message, that there is a cost to these types of attacks against our democracies," he said, pointing to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell's recent embarrassing trip to Moscow.

"The problem we face is that the people who perpetrate these attacks, who order these attacks, think they can get away with it, that there will be no consequences. As long as that remains the case, these attacks will continue whatever legislation we put forward," Glucksman said.

The committee, among other things, is looking into rules on the financing of political parties, additional resources for EU institutions, disinformation, the role of online platforms, education, and quality journalism.

Both MEPs insisted that the issue is not only disinformation.

"We should be aware that what we see in social media is only a small visible part of the iceberg beyond which lies enormous financial resources and vested geopolitical interests," Kalniete warned.

'Anyone speak Chinese'?

Asked about China, Glucksman said concerns also stem from their investment in strategic infrastructures, and institutions "being penetrated by Chinese influence and interest".

He said the EU does not have the means to counter that push.

"People need to be aware, that you can't defeat this kind of attacks with 30 people and without anybody speaking Chinese in the institutions," he said, referring to Borrell's statement in the committee on Monday on the EU having "very little resources" on China.

Kalniete added that sanctions have also been weak, pointing to the EU's new human rights sanctions regime that does not include corruption as a criterion for being put on a sanctions list.

"That is just lack of political will," she said of the limited sanctions on Moscow over the poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, and continued German and French support for Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany.

"The current stand of some of leading member states is not facilitating the determined policy against disinformation, and intervention in democratic processes coming from China," she added.

Kalniete said, however, that with every European election, that attitude is changing - at least in the European Parliament.

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The draft report on fighting foreign interference in the EU will be voted by the parliament plenary in March. The recommendations to the EU Commission include a mandatory code of conduct for digital platforms, and closing loopholes on party financing.

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