RIGA - The European Union (EU) should also apply sanctions against the perpetrators of information warfare, emphasizes the member of the European Parliament (EP) Sandra Kalniete (New Unity).
As the LETA was informed by Elina Bivina, the politician's assistant, the member of the European Parliament, in a special committee on foreign interference in EU democratic processes, including the widespread use of disinformation, today presented her second report with recommendations for united and urgent action by EU member states to protect countries from direct threats, an essential part of which is manipulation with information.
Kalniete emphasizes that today's reality is harsh, moreover, theoretical discussions about risks and possible future conflicts, potential threats or technologies have become a reality - thousands of Ukrainians give their lives every month, fighting for freedom.
"Russia's brutal war clearly shows how close a connection exists between hostile information warfare, the use of energy resources as a combat weapon and attacks on critical infrastructure, creating a direct threat to the security and stability of the EU and the world in general," the politician notes.
Bivina points out that the first Kalniete report was approved by a majority in March of this year, just two weeks after the start of the war. It concluded that Russia, China and other authoritarian regimes have channeled more than USD 300 million over a long period of time to interfere in democratic processes in 33 countries, with half of these cases linked to Russia's covert activities in Europe, including manipulating information on online platforms and providing practical support for the extreme right and left, as well as other radical and populist political forces in Europe.
In the new report, the MEP has put special emphasis in the proposals on those areas that are essential for protecting democratic processes. According to Kalniete, it is necessary to be aware that foreign intervention is carried out with the most modern technological means, corrupt methods and by conducting cyber attacks, but it must not go unpunished.
The MEP calls on the European Commission (EC) to create a special sanctions regime for malicious manipulation of information - persons from third countries who play in the "gray zone". In her view, it is just as crucially important for the member states to constantly ensure the financial and editorial independence of the mass media. In this context, the politician welcomes the EC directive proposal, which will improve the protection of journalists and human rights defenders against abusive legal proceedings and threats.
Kalniete points out that non-governmental organizations that promote media literacy in society and ensure fact-checking should have a proper and stable funding base at the EU level for the continuity of their activities.
In accordance with the recommendations in the first report of the EP special committee, the EC has developed the Media Freedom Act, which aims to protect the diversity and independence of mass media in the EU member states. The document stipulates that member states must provide predictable and sufficient funding for public mass media, strengthen the protection of journalistic sources, the EC must create a mechanism for closer cooperation between media regulators to decide, for example, on limiting the Kremlin's propaganda, while online platforms are required to respect official media content by forbidding to arbitrarily changing the content.
According to the MEP, the EC should prepare EU legislative proposals that would prevent European media from coming under the control of non-democratic countries. Also, according to the politician, stricter legal regulation regarding foreign direct investments is necessary to prevent the possibility of critical infrastructure objects falling into the hands of non-democratic countries.
"The use of equipment and software from manufacturers of high-risk countries, such as Huawei, Kaspersky and others, in vital and sensitive sectors, where data confidentiality may be at risk, should not be allowed," emphasizes Kalniete.
The report prepared by the MEP indicates that the number of cyber attacks has increased during the past year, including attacks on the EP, so member states are encouraged to implement the recently adopted EU legislative framework related to cyber security as soon as possible, while the EC and the EU External Action Service are invited to strengthen cyber security control in strategic communication channels - it is important in connection with the election infrastructure, preparing for the EP elections in 2024. The report states that the EU's cyber security system must be flexible and able to respond promptly in crisis situations.
MEPs will be able to submit amendments and additions to the report presented today in the committee until the end of January. The committee is scheduled to vote on the final version of the report in April, but it is planned to be adopted in the EP plenary session in May.