With the European Parliament elections just one year away, MEPs today expressed grave concern over what they see as a very real prospect of increased foreign interference and information manipulation.
Expressing particular concerns about electoral interference from Russia and China interference, MEPs recalled how “disinformation-for-hire” services have been used to attack electoral processes and are recommending the banning of social media platform TikTok from all levels of national governments and EU institutions.
They believe foreign interference, disinformation, and attacks on democracy are likely to continue in ever-greater numbers and to become more sophisticated in the run-up to the European Parliament elections in June 2024.
The warning comes in a report by the Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation, adopted by the EP’s plenary session by 469 votes for, 71 against and 75 abstentions.
MEPs have highlighted in the text interference on online platforms, protection of critical infrastructure and strategic sectors, interference during electoral processes, covert funding of political activities by foreign actors and resilience to cyberattacks.
The report focuses particularly on Russian and Chinese interference in the EU, in countries applying to join the EU, including the Western Balkans, and countries in the Global South.
The resolution condemns the “dangerous phenomenon” of disinformation-for-hire, through which providers offer disinformation services to government and non-government actors over the dark web to attack electoral processes.
To counter prohibited financial transactions from non-EU countries entering the EU’s political system, MEPs have urged the European Commission to facilitate the tracking of donations and have called on the member states to urgently address the issue of donations from third countries to national political parties.
MEPs also underscored the risks of economic dependence, espionage and sabotage when foreign companies acquire influence over EU critical infrastructure.
Chinese shipping companies have acquired majority or sizable interests in over 20 European ports, they noted.
MEPs also recommend banning TikTok at all levels of national governments and in the EU institutions.
They have also called on the European Council and Commission to exclude the use of equipment and software from manufacturers from high-risk countries, particularly China and Russia, such as ByteDance Huawei, ZTE, Kaspersky, NtechLab or Nuctech.
Parliament also wants a coordinated EU strategy to include new initiatives alongside improved enforcement of existing provisions.
Along such lines, it has called for adequate funding to tackle disinformation and uphold democratic processes.
MEPs are requesting the Commission to develop an effective Defence of Democracy Package together with legislation to counter hybrid threats in the EU.
They also want a permanent European Parliament body to monitor and fight foreign interference.
Rapporteur Latvian EPP MEP Sandra Kalniete said: “Foreign interference in democratic processes represents a growing threat to the security of EU member states and the EU, particularly against the backdrop of rapid technological development and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
“We must act urgently and implement our recommendations quickly. Significant and lasting investment must be made in our democratic resilience, drawing on the experience of our partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.”