The European Commission and lawmakers have accused Russia of orchestrating a “disinformation campaign” aimed at destabilizing the bloc and called for increased measures to combat the threat.
"There seems frankly little doubt that the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign is an orchestrated strategy, delivering the same disinformation stories in as many languages as possible, through as many channels as possible, as often as possible," EU Security Commissioner Julian King told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on January 17.
During the same parliament session dedicated to Russia’s propaganda influence on EU countries, MEPs “regretted the EU’s limited response” to what they called “Kremlin-orchestrated leaks, fake news, disinformation campaigns, and cyberattacks” against the bloc and its member states.
They cited Russian meddling in Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union and recent elections in France, Germany, and Spain, according to a press release.
EU leaders responded to Russia's disinformation campaign in September 2015 by launching the East Stratcom task force aimed at promoting the bloc's values and policies in the "Eastern neighborhood."
The task force also aims to increase public awareness of disinformation activities by external actors such as Russia and improve EU capacity to anticipate and respond to such activities.
King said that the task force gathered over two years “more than 3,500 examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation, contradicting publicly available facts, repeated in many languages on many occasions."
"If we look at opinion polls measuring how many people accept obvious disinformation planted in pro-Kremlin media, then unfortunately we have to conclude that Russian disinformation can be extremely successful," he warned.
"So that's why we need to redouble our efforts to debunk this propaganda," the commissioner added.
To improve EU resilience to “Russian propaganda tools” such as state-sponsored media outlets Sputnik and RT, European lawmakers called for measures to “improve media literacy, raise awareness, promote independent and investigative journalism, and revise the EU audiovisual directive so as to mandate national regulators to enforce zero tolerance of hate speech.”
They also stressed the need to improve the transparency of media ownership and funding of political parties and their campaigns.
On January 15, the European Commission's high-level expert group on how to tackle fake news met for the first time.
The group aims to contribute to the development of an EU-level strategy to be presented in late April on “how to tackle the phenomenon by defining the roles and responsibilities of relevant stakeholders and formulating recommendations.”
With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak and AFP