The Brief: EU election fears behind Russian fake news fight?

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

For the first time, the EU is setting aside funds to tackle the alarming Russian fake news. The money is not huge, around 5 million, but it means the bloc has officially recognised that Russian disinformation or propaganda is a serious threat that needs to be tackled in the long run.  

No policymaker will publicly admit that there are concerns about the EU elections in 2019. But we have all read reports about the alleged impact of Russian fake news on the US election, the Brexit referendum and Catalonia.

Everyone is focusing on Russia’s growing political meddling in the Balkans or on the renewed fears among Eastern European countries, including Ukraine. Interestingly enough, sources in Brussels stress that North African countries which happen to be under Russian influence will also be part of that new anti-fake news project.

The top EU privacy watchdog, the European data protection supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli, will publish an opinion on fake news next year. EU regulators are looking into how to fight fake news on different fronts: not only through counter-information or codes of conduct on removing illegal information online, but also now on data protection. Buttarelli met EU digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel on Wednesday and discussed the issue with her.

But looking at the proposal for the Parliament’s communication strategy for the 2019 EU election, one can also see that Brussels’ fear of Russian fake news is being used by ‘well-wishers’ in the member states. There are many EU politicians willing to adopt a no holds barred rhetoric based on fake news in the name of the fight against the old corrupt establishment.  

In the Parliament’s proposal, it was made clear that the fake news phenomenon should be properly addressed, as well as the “unpredictable” relations with important powers such as Russia. The proposal states that the challenges have increased compared to the 2014 EU election.

It’s also worth mentioning that struggling media organisations in most member states are trying to fight an unfair war by initiating fact-checking battles but, faced with a lack of resources, they often feel like David against Goliath.

The Roundup

Uber is in more trouble, as seven EU countries team up to investigate the firm’s privacy breach of 57 million users’ data. New EU rules on data protection will boost fines for companies of up to 4% of their global turnover.

EU’s oil demand is predicted to fall only slightly, and global demand to keep growing well into the 2030s, as electric mobility fails to get the EU Commission’s support.

Europe should help Africa starting with democracy – everything else should follow. EURACTIV Greece spoke to former UN deputy secretary general Sotiris Mousouris.

At the EU-Africa Summit, leaders scratch their heads on the question of youth unemployment on both sides of the Med. Meanwhile, Bulgaria sends a deputy minister, failing again to show European leadership after Bonn, and only weeks ahead of its EU presidency.

The Commission’s preview of the “à la carte” common agricultural policy post 2020 failed to impress MEPs – there is no budget announcements or policy direction yet.

As it stands, the CAP’s environmental impact is disastrous, and decentralising it to capitals will result in writing meaningless ‘blank cheques’, writes Konstantin Kreiser.

Estonia makes an attempt to revive refugees quotas, in the last weeks of its presidency. But hostile migrant policies by EU member states are a shame and a breach of EU and international law. Read EURACTIV Slovakia’s interview with Catherine Woollard.

Look out for…

The EU-Africa Summit closes tomorrow in Abidjan, with a joint press conference at 11

Views are the author’s

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