Tuesday, 25 June 2019
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
European Parliament Elections
112. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the European Commission has carried out a review on whether there were attempts by outside agencies and State actors to manipulate the European Parliament elections in May 2019; if so, the findings of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26244/19]
113. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on reports that Russian sources conducted disinformation campaigns designed to suppress voter turnout and sway public opinion during the May 2019 European Parliament elections; if action will be taken in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26245/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 112 and 113 together.
Protecting democratic processes and institutions from disinformation is a major challenge for all societies. In order to tackle this challenge, the EU is building a robust framework for coordinated action which is fully in line with European values and fundamental rights.
The most recent EEAS / European Commission Report on the implementation of the EU’s Action Plan Against Disinformation was released on 14 June 2019. The Report found that available evidence did not permit the identification of a distinct cross-border disinformation campaign from external sources specifically targeting the European elections. However, it concluded that the evidence collected revealed a continued and sustained disinformation activity by Russian sources, aiming to suppress turnout and influence voter preferences.
According to the EU's East Strategic Communication Task Force, activity covered a broad range of topics, ranging from challenging the Union’s democratic legitimacy to exploiting divisive public debates on issues such as migration and sovereignty.
While it is too early to draw final conclusions about the level and impact of this disinformation, it is clear that the measures adopted to date by the European Council - the EU Joint Action Plan against Disinformation and the dedicated Elections Package - helped to deter attacks and expose disinformation.
Within the framework of these actions, individuals and organisations, including journalists, fact checkers, online platforms, national authorities, researchers and civil society organisations contributed to raising awareness about how to counter the threat. This increased public awareness made it harder for malicious actors to manipulate the public debate.
More broadly, the EU has strengthened its capabilities to identify and counter disinformation, via the Strategic Communication Task Forces and the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell in the European External Action Service. A Rapid Alert System has also been established to facilitate the prompt exchange of information between Member States and the EU institutions where suspect disinformation campaigns have been detected.
During the election period the EU worked closely with online platforms and industry through a voluntary Code of Practice to increase the transparency of political communications and to prevent the manipulative use of their services. This allows users to know why they see specific political content and ads, and see where they come from and who is behind them.
The fight against disinformation is a long-term challenge that concerns all parts of our societies and requires continuous commitment and efforts. The private sector, especially the online platforms, have a particular responsibility. The Commission will shortly report back to the European Council in more detail on the implementation of the measures introduced during the election period and on the effectiveness of the Voluntary Code of Practice. Further proposals to strengthen our collective action in response to this ever-evolving threat are likely.