Commission President Von der Leyen Proposes Strategy to Safeguard EU from Foreign Interference in Re-election Bid

Giuseppe de vita
credit: euronews

Copenhagen (Brussels Morning) – EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has unveiled agendas to set up a European Democracy Shield to shield the EU from malign foreign interference if she secures a second term at the helm of the EU Commission.

In a speech given at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit on Tuesday morning, European Commission President Von Der Leyen expressed she was “concerned” about the advancement of disinformation and foreign interference in Europe, cautioning that the “core tenets of our democracy” were under attack.

How does von der Leyen propose to combat disinformation in Europe?

Speaking in her ability as the lead candidate for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP)- which is outperforming the pan-EU poll – she vowed to set up a European Democracy Shield to maintain the bloc’s capabilities to combat foreign influence if she secures a second term as Commission president. 

The Shield would be entrusted with detecting and removing online disinformation – installation on the work of the EU’s digital rulebook, the Digital Services Act (DSA) – and “inoculating” the coalition against malign influence by enabling Europeans to recognise threats.

What examples did von der Leyen cite to illustrate the threat of foreign influence?

Ursula von der Leyen referenced the increase of fake news and AI-generated deep-fakes, as well as news that foreign governments are “buying influence and driving chaos” in parliaments across Europe as some of her greatest concerns. “We have seen far-right politicians and lead candidates from AfD in Germany in the pockets of Russia,” von der Leyen expressed on Tuesday. “They are selling their souls on Russian propaganda outlets and videos.”

The bloc is currently preparing to hit sanctions against four pro-Kremlin entities suspected of spreading propaganda in the coalition as part of its 14th package of sanctions against Russia. 

They include Voice of Europe, the media commodity sanctioned by Czech authorities in late March after it was broken as a Russian propaganda operation with regular access to sitting MEPs, especially from the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group or non-attached members.

How does von der Leyen view cyber aggression against European countries?

Von der Leyen criticised the malign manipulation as a mechanism of “giving cover and encouragement to the more dangerous extremes in our societies.” She also expressed concern over the raft of cyber aggression waged against European countries in recent weeks.  She declared coordinated attacks were part of a broader plan to weaken Europe’s “resilience” and commitment to supporting Ukraine. 

What initiatives will von der Leyen’s next Commission introduce to combat disinformation?

Von der Leyen expressed that her next Commission’s new initiative would create on the work carried out under the DSA to oblige outlets to take down fake news and provide more transparency on political advertising. But she stated that despite the efforts of the EU’s new AI Act – a world-first bill to regulate fast-moving artificial intelligence technologies – the bloc must  “strengthen” its approach to tackling deep-fakes, often used to fabricate audio and video content of political figures.

What strategies will be prioritized to enhance media literacy and counter-propaganda?

She also said that supporting media literacy and attuning Europeans to propaganda operations, or “pre-bunking,” will be a priority. “Instead of treating an infection once it has taken hold, that’s the de-bunking, it is better to vaccinate so that our body is inoculated,” she described.

“Because disinformation depends on people passing it on to others – it is essential that people know what malign information’s influence is and what the designs look like. As that knowledge goes up – our chances of being influenced go down. And that builds up the societal resilience that we will need.”

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Giuseppe De Vita is a journalist at Brussels Morning News, He is covering European politics, Law and Technology news. Lawyer at De Vita & Partners Law Firm specializing in Criminal Law, Military and Space Law, and Cyber Security. In April 2023, he authored the monograph "Governance in Extraterrestrial Space", showcasing his extensive legal expertise. He has acquired vast experience in handling criminal and civil matters, managing litigation before various levels of jurisdiction across the national territory. In 2010, he obtained a Master's degree in Information Technology Law. Additionally, in the same year, he served as a teacher in criminal-IT subjects at the Penitentiary Police School of Portici, providing courses aimed at officials and managers of the Penitentiary Police and the Penitentiary Administration, focusing on IT security. He also serves as a Workplace Safety teacher, conducting training courses at various organizations and educational institutions. Moreover, he is a lecturer on Anti-Corruption and Transparency. The law firm, under his guidance, assists both private and corporate clients in court, accumulating significant experience in criminal and civil disputes over the years. Furthermore, it conducts Risk Management and Compliance, Cyber Resilience, and Cyber Security activities, with a specific focus on privacy protection (EU Regulation 2016/679 - GDPR). Giuseppe frequently publishes articles in legal journals, analyzing various regulatory issues. He has contributed articles to the legal journal Altalex, of which he is also a member of the Scientific Committee.