The European leaders this week called for sustained efforts to raise awareness, increase preparedness and strengthen the resilience of our democracies to disinformation. This comes one week after the European Commission and the High Representative reported about the implementation of the EU’s Action Plan against Disinformation.
“We are confident that our efforts have contributed to limit the impact of disinformation operations, including from foreign actors, through closer coordination between the EU and Member States. However, much remains to be done”, HR /VP Mogherini and Commissioners Ansip, Jourová, King and Gabriel said in a joint statement. “The European elections were not after all free from disinformation; we should not accept this as the new normal. Malign actors constantly change their strategies. We must strive to be ahead of them.”
While it is still too early to draw final conclusions about the level and impact of disinformation in the recent European Parliament elections, it is clear that the actions taken by the EU – together with numerous journalists, fact-checkers, platforms, national authorities, researchers and civil society – have helped to deter attacks and expose attempts at interfering in our democratic processes. Increased public awareness made it harder for malicious actors to manipulate the public debate.
The EU action focused on four complementary strands:
1. 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. It has also improved the coordinated response by setting up a Rapid Alert System to facilitate the exchange of information between Member States and the EU institutions.
2. The EU worked with online platforms and industry through a voluntary Code of Practice on disinformation to increase transparency of political communications and prevent the manipulative use of their services to ensure users know why they see specific political content and ads, where they come from and who is behind them.
3. The Commission and the High Representative, in cooperation with the European Parliament, helped increase awareness and resilience to disinformation within society, notably through more dissemination of fact-based messaging and renewed efforts to promote media literacy.
4. The Commission has supported Member States' efforts to secure the integrity of elections and strengthen the resilience of the Union's democratic systems. The establishment of election networks at EU and national level, with links to the Rapid Alert System, improved cooperation on potential threats.
Fighting disinformation is a common, long-term challenge for EU institutions and Member States. The EU leaders noted the evolving nature of the threats and the growing risk of malicious interference and online manipulation associated with the development of Artificial Intelligence, highlighting the need for continuous assessment and an appropriate response.
The EU leaders also invited the EU institutions, together with the Member States, to work on measures to enhance the resilience and improve the security culture of the EU against cyber and hybrid threats from outside the EU, and to better protect the EU's information and communication networks, and its decision-making processes, from malicious activities of all kinds.
The Commission and the High Representative remain committed to continue their efforts to protect the EU's democracy from disinformation and manipulation. Still this year, the Commission will report on the implementation of the elections package and assess the effectiveness of the Code of Practice. On this basis, the Commission may consider further actions to ensure and improve the EU's response to the threat.