Decisions on electoral interference EP: bad and good news for Russia

2019-10-15

On 10 October, the European Parliament approved a resolution condemning foreign electoral interference and disinformation in democratic processes with a vast majority. The result of the vote on text, similarly to previous cases, shows that the Kremlin has nowhere near enough friends in the EP to influence European legislation, but they have many in the radical left and right.

Most important findings:

  1. The vast majority is against electoral interference. 469 votes MEPS approved the original resolution, 143 voted against and 47 abstentions. Most members of the mainstream European party families (EPP, S&D, Renew Europe, Greens, ECR) supported the resolution. The situation was similar in Central Europe: MEPs from the V4 and Austria strongly supported the resolution as well. The voting patterns were very similar to an earlier text on Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. The results of these votes clearly indicate that there is a relatively wide majority against Moscow’s aggressive foreign policies in the new EP.
  2. Threat perception is high. The result shows that the vast majority of the European Parliament considers foreign interference by external actors to be a significant security threat to the Union and its member states. The text strongly condemns foreign interference in national and European democratic processes in general and Russian disinformation in particular. The Parliament also highlights the actions of external powers that benefit extremist anti-EU actors as a significant concern, including efforts to “undermine the appeal of democratic and equal societies” and funding provided to Eurosceptic forces.
  3. Political pressure on Commission and Council remains, but will they listen? The European Parliament’s resolution calls on European institutions and member states to make countering external influence and building resilience against it a priority, and to cooperate with transatlantic partners to achieve this goal. Pressure on the Kremlin to cease its hostile activities against European states will not ease in the current parliamentary term. The resolution calls on European institutions to implement an “effective and detailed” strategy to counter Russian disinformation “in a swift and robust manner”, including higher financing for relevant institutions. However, in the previous parliamentary term there was a huge discrepancy between the calls of the EP and the (in)action of the Commission and the Council. It remains a question whether this gap closes in this term.
  4. Russia has a group of reliable “friends” on the left and right margins of the European Parliament, as we had noted earlier. The radical right ID parliamentary group, for instance, submitted a failed counter-resolution condemning the European Union for being “one of main sources of disinformation in Europe”. In the debate on the resolution, independent MEP Claire Fox accused the EU of “interfering in nation states’ elections”, while others – such as GUE/NGL’s Mick Wallace or ID’s Thierry Mariani – claimed there was “zero concrete evidence to support” the accusations. Although these statements have no impact on the outcome, they provide ammunition for pro-Kremlin disinformation media.
  5. Moscow can claim a small victory. An amendment approved by the European Parliament by a slim majority (320 – 306 – 35) deleted a paragraph calling on the EP to consider setting up a special parliamentary committee on foreign electoral interference and disinformation. This inaction benefits Russia because such a committee could have consistently raised attention to the topic, react quickly to Moscow’s actions, and pushed for more efforts to counter these threats. Renew Europe was split on the amendment, while the Greens mostly approved it. As far as Central Europe is concerned, the majority of Austrian, Polish and Slovakian MEPs were for setting up the committee, while the vast majority of Czech and Hungarian representatives were against it. The vote shows that the fragmentation of the European Parliament and parliamentary groups themselves could block the EP in the future from adopting some measures related to Russia. Hopefully, this will only happen very rarely.

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