Foreign disinformation: the EU needs to prepare and respond better 

Press Releases 

On 9 March 2022, Parliament’s plenary adopted its final proposals on how to strengthen the EU’s response to foreign interference into its democracy. Here are the recommendations.


Building EU resilience through situational awareness, media literacy and education

    • conduct and share regular sociological research and polling to monitor resilience and media literacy as well as to understand public support and perceptions of the most common disinformation narratives;
    • raise awareness on foreign interference in all layers of society, including Russia's and China's disinformation campaigns;
    • include media and digital literacy, as well as education in democracy, fundamental rights, recent history, world affairs, critical thinking and public participation, in member state curricula;
    • Commission to put forward an overarching media and information literacy strategy with a special focus on combating information manipulation;
    • provide regular training and exercises for staff working insectors that are vulnerable to interference;
    • EU institutions to develop and boost the important work of the StratCom division of the European External Action Service;
    • improve EU strategic communication to counter anti-democracy narratives;
    • member states to share relevant intelligence with the EU Intelligence and Situation Centre and participate more actively in the Rapid Alert System;
    • create an EU-wide database on foreign interference incidents reported by EU and Member State authorities;
    • support organisations of independent journalists, fact-checkers and researchers all over Europe and establish journalism and fact-checking trustworthiness indicators;
    • Commission to initiate a study on minimum media standards as a basis on which to revoke licences in the event of breaches;
    • after the EU-wide ban on Sputnik TV and RT, take further measures against similar Russian disinformation organs;
    • Commission to swiftly submit concrete and ambitious proposals on the safety of journalists, human rights defenders;
    • earmark EU public funding sources for independent fact-checkers, researchers, quality and investigative media and journalists;
    • strengthen professional and pluralistic media with transparent financing and donation structures;
    • establish communication channels and set up platforms where companies, NGOs and individuals, including members of diasporas, can report instances in which they fall victim to information manipulation.

Foreign interference using online platforms

    • oblige online platforms, especially those with a systemic impact on society, to commit adequate resources to prevent and reduce information manipulation and interference;
    • platforms to introduce mechanisms to detect and suspend, in particular, inauthentic accounts linked to coordinated influence operations;
    • binding rules to require platforms to create easily available and effective communication channels for people or organisations who want to report illegal content, violations of terms and conditions, disinformation, or foreign interference or manipulation;
    • oblige platforms to set up public and easily searchable archives of online advertisements;
    • require platforms to cooperate with competent authorities to regularly test their systems and to identify, assess and mitigate the risk of information manipulation;
    • algorithms to be modified  to stop boosting content originating from inauthentic accounts, divisive and anger-inducing content;
    • ensure clear and readable labelling of deepfakes, both for platform users and in content metadata;
    • regulate services offering social media manipulation tools and services;
    • Commission to make use of competition policy tools and anti-trust laws to ensure a functional market and break up the monopoly of Google Ads;
    • add a sanctions mechanism to the updated Code of Practice on Disinformation, the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act and other measures linked to the European Democracy Action Plan;
    • implement fully and effectively the General Data Protection Regulation which limits the amount of data platforms can store about users and how long this data can be used;
    • swift action to ensure that the Code of Practice incorporates binding commitments for platforms to ensure the EU’s readiness ahead of the next elections.

Critical infrastructure and strategic sectors

    • leave the prerogative to identify critical entities with member states, but coordination at the EU level is necessary;
    • extend the list of critical entities to include in digital election infrastructure and education systems;
    • put in place an EU approach tackleing hybrid threats to election processes and to improve coordination and cooperation among member states;
    • EU and member states to provide financing alternatives to EU Western Balkans candidate countries and other potential candidate countries, where foreign direct investment has been used as a geopolitical tool by third countries;
    • develop further European networks of data infrastructure and service providers with European security standards;
    • Commission to propose actions to build a secure, sustainable, and equitable supply of the raw materials used to produce critical components and technologies, including batteries and equipment, 5G, chips;
    • Commission and Member States to prevent sabotage and espionage of internet backbones and submarine communication cables as well as use robust security standards including via the Global Gateway strategy.

Foreign interference during electoral processes

    • reinforce monitoring of foreign interference well ahead of elections, referendums or other important political processes;
    • establish the protection of the entire electoral process as a top EU and national security issue;
    • prepare for the European elections in 2024, which should involve a strategy, training and awareness-raising for European political parties and their staff;
    • conduct an in-depth investigation into how to counter the ‘disinformation for hire’ phenomenon before and during elections;
    • use electoral observation missions as key instruments in the fight against the increasing use of unfair and rigged electoral processes by illiberal regimes seeking to appear democratic.

Covert funding of political activities by foreign donors

    • make illegal in all member states engaging in any covert activity financed by foreign actors that aims to influence European or national political processes;
    • fully clarify the political and economic relations between European extremist, populist, anti-European parties and individuals and Russia;
    • implement an all-EU ban on foreign political donations channelled through in-kind contributions, straw donors with local citizenship, shell companies and domestic subsidiaries, non-profit organisations created to derail the electoral process, online political ads;
    • Commission to conduct an analysis of covert funding of political activities in the EU and submit concrete proposals aiming to close all loopholes that make the opaque financing of political parties and foundations or elected officials from third-country sources possible.

Cybersecurity and resilience against cyberattacks, deterrence and countermeasures

    • step up EU, NATO cybersecurity assistance to Ukraine, use the EU cyber-sanctions regime against those responsible for cyberattacks targeting Ukraine and support Ukraine's application to NATO Cooperation Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence;
    • EU institutions and the member states to rapidly increase investments in the EU’s strategic cyber capacities and capabilities to detect, expose and tackle foreign interference;
    • EU to take the lead in the development of an international treaty on cybersecurity that lays down international norms on cybersecurity to fight cybercrime;
    • Commission to draw up a list of illicit surveillance software, such as Pegasus, and to continuously update this list; the EU and its member states to use this list to ensure full human rights due diligence and proper vetting of exports of European surveillance technology;
    • Commission to review EU investments in Pegasus maker NSO Group Technologies and to adopt targeted measures against foreign states using software to spy on EU citizens or refugees in the EU;
    • ambitious revision of the ePrivacy Directive to strengthen the confidentiality of communications and of personal data when using electronic devices, without lowering the level of protection provided by the directive;
    • take further measures against foreign interference, including in the form of setting up a sanctions regime.

Protection of EU Member States, institutions, agencies, delegations and missions

    • thoroughly and periodically review all the services, networks, equipment and hardware of EU institutions to bolster their resilience to cybersecurity threats and exclude potentially dangerous programmes and devices, such as those developed by Kaspersky Lab;
    • carry out a thorough investigation of reported cases of foreign infiltration among the staff of the EU institutions and review human resources procedures, including pre-recruitment screening;
    • EU administration to set up proper crisis management procedures for information manipulation cases and to strengthen its monitoring of foreign interference, among others through the establishment of a central repository and incident tracking tool;
    • coordinate efficiently, in a timely manner between various EU institutions, bodies and agencies specialised in cybersecurity, including by setting up a normative framework for information security and cybersecurity in all EU institutions, bodies and agencies;
    • set up mandatory transparency rules for trips offered by foreign countries and entities to officials of the EU institutions, including MEPs, accredited parliamentary assistants and political group advisors, as well as for national officials;
    • Belgian and other member states' authorities to review and update the domestic anti-espionage framework for effective detection, prosecution and sanctioning of offenders to protect the EU institutions and agencies on their soil;
    • Parliament’s governing bodies to improve security clearance procedures for staff and tighten rules and checks for access to its premises;
    • Parliament’s governing bodies to increase the transparency and accountability of Parliament's informal friendship groups, enforce current rules and take the necessary measures when these friendship groups are misused by third countries;
    • make regular security and information and communication technology training obligatory for all Parliament staff (including interns) and MEPs.

Interference through global actors via elite capture, national diasporas, universities and cultural events

    • European External Action Service to produce a study into the prevalence and influence of malicious state actors in European think tanks, universities, religious organisations and media institutions as well as into the prevalence and influence of foreign interference in European court proceedings;
    • differentiate between organisations which stay clear of Russian governmental influence and those that have links to the Kremlin when considering educational or cultural cooperation;
    • ask cultural, academic and non-governmental institutions to improve transparency as regards China’s influence and calls on them to make public any exchanges and engagements with the Chinese Government and related organisations;
    • Commission to propose legislation on increasing the transparency of the foreign financing of universities, as well as NGOs and think tanks and encourage both academic institutions and the private sector to set up comprehensive security and compliance programmes;
    • member state authorities to adopt effective rules on foreign funding for higher education institutions, including strict ceilings and reporting requirements;
    • make sure funding of research of geopolitical concern at European universities comes from European sources;
    • member states to closely monitor teaching, research and other activities within the Confucius Institutes and, where alleged espionage or interference is substantiated by clear evidence, take enforcement action;
    • Commission and member states to cooperate better on protecting religious institutes from foreign interference and to cap and increase the transparency of funding;
    • Commission to facilitate the exchange of best practices among member states to tackle foreign interference in culture and education;
    • Commission to build up the infrastructure required to produce evidence-based responses to both short-term and long-term disinformation threats in the Western Balkans;
    • support to Eastern Partnership countries, in particular through cooperation on building state and societal resilience to disinformation and Russian state propaganda;
    • Commission to encourage and coordinate actions against elite capture including by enforcement of the cooling-off periods for EU Commissioners and high-ranking EU civil servants;
    • EU institutions to effectively cooperate on the reform the Transparency Register, including by introducing more stringent rules.

Global cooperation and multilateralism

    • the EU to lead the debate on the legal implications of foreign interference, promote common international definitions and attribution rules and develop an international framework for responses to interference in elections in order to establish a Global Code of Practice for Free and Resilient Democratic Processes;
    • EU to initiate a process at UN level to adopt a global convention to promote and defend democracy;
    • urgently address climate mis- and disinformation;
    • build on models such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  to create a global code of conduct on disinformation, a process that would provide the basis for a Paris Agreement on Disinformation;
    • EU to establish a European Democratic Media Fund to support independent journalism in (potential) enlargement and European neighbourhood countries and in candidate and potential candidate countries;
    • provide a clear perspective for candidate and potential candidate countries and support partner and neighbouring countries, such as those in the Western Balkans and the Eastern and Southern Neighbourhoods of the EU, since countries such as Russia, Turkey and China are trying to use these countries as an information manipulation and hybrid warfare laboratory;
    • deepen cooperation with Taiwan in countering interference operations and disinformation campaigns from malign third countries, including the sharing of best practices, develop joint approaches to fostering media freedom and journalism, deepen cooperation on cybersecurity and cyber threats;
    • Parliament to actively promote an EU narrative, to play a leading role in promoting the exchange of information and to discuss best practices with partner parliaments;
    • create a permanent institutional arrangement in Parliament dedicated to the follow-up of these recommendations.