The security environment surrounding the EU remains very volatile. With the emergence of conflicts in the Eastern Neighbourhood, cyberattacks, new forms of terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Europe is facing its biggest threat since the Cold War. The threats are coming also from the inside with the rise of populism, disinformation and attempts to interfere in the electoral processes. Our values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law - as well as our European way of life - are therefore under threat. The spread of fake news and the instigation of chaos and confusion are among the primary tactics used in hybrid warfare - a strategy combining political, diplomatic, legal, and military or guerrilla style activities with other methods of influence, such as fake news and attempts to influence elections to destabilise and weaken credible forces.
The EPP Group wants to make sure that the right of Europeans to make a free and deliberate choice remains unhampered. We are aware that in the digital age, not only law enforcement forces, but also Internet and social media companies must cooperate to counter online propaganda and hate speech. We want Member States and the EU to speak with one voice and act in step with each other. One of the main menaces Europe faces today comes in the guise of cyber-attacks. They present an increasing security risk for individuals, companies and public authorities. A coordinated attack could destroy a country’s economy and even its democracy. Cyber terrorism and mass disinformation (fake news) can all currently be used by third countries to interfere in the EU’s democratic processes.
Recent data shows that Russia’s disinformation campaigns are the main source of fake news in Europe, followed by China, Iran and North Korea. Even though the Kremlin did not succeed in significantly destabilising European democratic processes in 2017, we must act immediately and boldly to enhance EU resilience against such threats, including the risks for the European Parliament elections in 2019. The EPP Group defends severe sanctions against those proven to have carried out cyber-attacks.
We also need to make sure that no extremist, terrorist and propaganda content can be allowed on social media in Europe. In addition, the misuse of personal data by politicians to swing elections and subvert democratic processes must be stopped. Voluntary removal of such content is not enough. We want clear rules about what is allowed in social networks in Europe and what is not.
What we want to do in the next 5 years:
- provide serious investment in the capabilities of each Member State to counter the strategic communication of hostile third parties.
- encourage an exchange of information and best practise by Member States in countering propaganda and disinformation.
- encourage and support education in the area of media literacy and critical thinking, especially for young people.
- put in place strict rules demanding responsibility by social media platforms for the content they host on their pages, including a one-hour rule for online platforms to remove terrorist content. The EPP Group voted in favour of the one-hour provision but the legal proposal still has to go through a process of negotiations with Member States before becoming law.
- seek a common EU framework on e-evidence enabling the efficient cross-border cooperation of police and judiciary bodies, allowing them to better prevent, investigate and prosecute terrorists acts and serious crimes.
- support state institutions, think tanks, NGOs and grassroots cyber activists dealing with propaganda and disinformation.
- support and finance public awareness campaigns to increase the resilience of EU citizens against disinformation.
- continue fostering responsible journalism, editorial responsibility and liability of both traditional and new media in facing the challenge of non-verified or one-sided tendentious information undermining citizens’ trust in independent media.
- continue supporting the public service media, which does not financially rely on private financing sources and can therefore provide high-quality and impartial information to the general public, while ensuring and maintaining its independence from political interference.
- continue supporting the valuable work of the European Endowment for Democracy - a grant-giving organisation which supports those who fight for democracy beyond the EU but who are facing obstacles in accessing EU funding.
- work towards practical solutions to support and strengthen democratic, independent and diverse media in the countries of the EU Neighbourhood.
- upgrade the EU East StratCom - a task force to address Russia’s disinformation campaigns - to a permanent structure within the European External Action Service with adequate financing and staffing. So far, the East StratCom has debunked over 4.000 cases of hostile propaganda on a wide variety of topics.
The EPP Group has clearly outlined the toolbox necessary to fight disinformation and hybrid warfare tactics. A lot will, however, depend on its implementation; therefore, we expect EU countries to deliver on their responsibility. We must act immediately and boldly to enhance EU resilience against hybrid threats, more precisely those which tend to misinform citizens in times of crucial choices for their future. We need to make sure that politicians do not use extremist propaganda on social media to swing elections and undermine democracy in Europe. This is the only way to preserve our European way of life, including the right to freely choose the kind of society we want to live in.