Russian and Chinese hybrid threats and the EU's capacity to respond were at the focus of a debate in the Committee on Foreign Interference with EU foreign policy chief Borrell on Monday.
MEPs in the special committee quizzed EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell on his concrete plans to counter hybrid threats and disinformation by Russia and China and to dissuade further such attacks.
Vaccine disinformation and the role of independent media
Many MEPs asked for concrete steps against the Russian disinformation campaigns in general and the one against the EU vaccination strategy, in particular, that involved discrediting the EU-sanctioned vaccines while extolling Russia's own drug. Other MEPs wondered if the EU has enough financial resources to counter the hybrid threat coming from China, but also disinformation spread from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the ISIS and Iran.
What is the price to pay for malicious actors for applying hybrid warfare against the EU, asked a number of MEPs, calling for collective international cooperation on sanctions. Some MEPs emphasized: support of independent media must be an integral part of EU foreign policy in countries such as Belarus where Russia is taking over local media.
Scarce resources against China, says Borrell
In his response, Josep Borrell underlined several times: at the moment, the EU does not have sufficient resources to counter the disinformation machinery of players such as Russia and China on for example the vaccine disinformation campaign. "We have a war now. We have to learn how to fight this war, get the necessary tools. Compared to what our adversaries have, we have very little", he said. In particular, he was asking for a wider mandate to counter Chinese hybrid attacks where his resources are "very very very little".
The high representative mentioned that the EU cooperated with EU states and international organisations such as NATO and G7 to fight hybrid attacks and "industrialised lies used in an organised fashion", through, among others, the EEAS' East Stratcom Task Force and the EUvsDisinfo site. But he acknowledged: trying to refute massively spread disinformation is less efficient than providing correct information upfront, even if attacks cannot be prevented. An example of such tactics is the "positive approach instead of debunking and counterattack" applied by a specific part of the Stratcom task force in the Middle East and the North African region, he said.