written by Ludovic Boissy
Published as part of European Horizons Spring 2020 policy priority series on Defending Democracy Against Cyber Threats and the Northern Chapters Publications Initiative on Interference in Elections.
In June 2020, within the European Parliament, a Special Committee about Foreign Interference in the Democratic Processes of the European Union was created with R. GLUCKSMANN as its President. This committee reflects a European will to fight against foreign interference in order to maintain a democratic and sovereign Europe. These are defined as “all activities carried out by or on behalf of a foreign actor in order to harm a country’s interests by various means”. In the same way as individual states, it seems that regional organizations, such as the European Union (EU), are not spared from such interference, which undermines the democratic principle that guides the development of the EU.
The European elections of May 26, 2019 took place in a context, still uncertain, of Russian interference. Indeed, according to an American report, interference took place via social networks, more generally on the Internet. Dubious accounts were spreading false information about candidates. Disinformation is therefore the main source of foreign interference in the EU. This latter has a strong influence, according to a 2018 Eurobarometer survey which pointed out that 45% of respondents use the internet as their primary source of information, although television remains the primary source and the internet the second.
Therefore, how is the EU trying to deal with these interferences which undermine European democracy and call into question the integrity of the ballot?
A few months after the European elections, the European Parliament passed a resolution on foreign electoral interference and disinformation in national and European democratic processes on October 10, 2019. In its recitals, it takes stock of the threat posed by such interference, mainly Russian, as stated in recital L. Furthermore, in recital H, the resolution stresses the effectiveness of the measures taken by the EU to combat such interference. Indeed, the EU has adopted an “election package” which makes it possible to deal with such interference. In 2018, a code of good practice to combat disinformation was signed as well. This code aims, for example, to fight against malicious advertising placements that would incite disinformation and therefore interference. The signatories are not the Member States, but Internet platforms such as Google, Facebook and other social networks. This is a step towards a stable democratic process, as the European Union is working with digital platforms, such as social networks, which are considered to be the primary vectors of disinformation.
Finally, the culmination of the fight against foreign interference in the EU is the creation of the Special Commission on Foreign Interference in all democratic processes in the European Union. Its role is to “identify areas requiring legislative or non-legislative action with regard to social media platforms, to propose coordinated action at European level to combat hybrid threats and to counter strategic disinformation and communication campaigns from malicious third countries that target the EU.” This commission will take stock of the interference that the EU has been suffering for several years. However, critics have questioned the integrity of this commission, which is essential for European democracy. Indeed, the French far right and pro-Russian MEP Thierry MARIANI has been appointed as a member of the committee. The integrity of the committee is undermined when it is claimed that Russia is the main source of foreign interference in the European Union and that the committee’s role is to curb this interference.
In conclusion, the European Union seeks to uphold its values as set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, of which democracy is an integral part. After an economic development of the European Union for more than 70 years, a democratic basis is trying to be established by the European Union. Beyond the fight against interference, this can be seen during the Covid-19 crisis where European loans to its member states are conditional on respect for the rule of law and the values attached to it. The aim of this fight against external interference is to promote the democratic value of the European Union in order to ensure a degree of sovereignty and prosperity within it.
Ludovic Boissy is currently pursuing a masters in public law at the Université Celrmont Auvergne.