Welcome to EU Politics Decoded where Benjamin Fox and Eleonora Vasques will bring you a round-up of the latest political news in Europe and beyond every Thursday. In this edition, we look at how economics trumped a series of political scandals in last week’s Greek elections.
Editor’s Take: Unintended victims of Europe’s war on disinformation
“Please count on disinformation being used against you and your programmes,” the EU’s Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourová told delegates at the ALDE Congress in Stockholm last weekend.
The liberal ALDE party, and the other pan-European political parties, are starting to put together their manifestoes and candidate lists ahead of next June’s EU Parliament elections, which are likely to be held against the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine on the bloc’s doorstep.
None of the delegates were surprised or shocked by Jourová’s warning.
That is because the threat is real enough. Last year, the US State Department found that Russia had spent $300 million trying to influence politicians and other European officials and elsewhere.
Disinformation, fake news and foreign interference had become an ever-present factor in national elections across Europe and the West for years before Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
On Thursday (1 June), MEPs warned that foreign interference, disinformation, and attacks on democracy will continue to increase and become more sophisticated in the run-up to next June’s vote.
The question is how best to address it. The European Parliament has called for the European Commission to facilitate the tracking of donations and for member states to urgently address the issue of donations from third countries to national political parties.
However, one tangible negative effect of this determination to address third-country interference could be new rules on the funding of European political parties, which would prohibit affiliates outside the EU from paying their membership dues and being full members.
EU governments – who are currently deadlocked with MEPs on the issue – say that the change would help prevent interference from malign actors such as Russia and China and ensure that political parties in Brussels cannot receive money from outside the bloc.
But that could negatively impact the perception of the EU’s political support for Ukraine, many of whose political parties have recently joined the pan-European political families.
Kira Rudik, the leader of the Golos party in Ukraine and a vice-president of the liberal ALDE party, told EURACTIV in Stockholm that this approach would fit in with Russia’s propaganda to Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership states, namely that they are not wanted by the EU.
“On one hand, we’ve been told that the EU embraces Ukraine and embraces new members. And on the other hand, we have these regulations,” said Rudik.
There is a strong argument that parties like Golos and Zelenskyy’s Servants of the People are vital in defending democratic values and moving their country closer to EU membership. Kicking them out of the European parties would do more damage than thousands of Russian bots on social media.
Who is electioneering
Sanchez makes his move. Spain is heading for a general election in July, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced this week. At last week’s local elections, the socialists and their leftist coalition partners Podemos lost lots of ground, while the liberal Ciudadanos disappeared. The centre and far right are growing, confirming the general pattern across Europe of centre-right forces closer and closer to the right wing. Why did Sanchez make that move? Maybe to lose less than the socialists would have done in the expected elections in December.
What does Erdoğan’s victory mean for the EU and Turkey? For the EU, President Recep Erdoğan’s re-election means stability on border management. Top EU politicians were quick to congratulate Erdoğan, treating him as a reliable partner – but more importantly, needed to contain migratory flows. Internally, the country’s authoritarian drift is well known, particularly regarding human rights and media freedom. Furthermore, videos came to light of Erdoğan giving money to people on the day of election.
Politics in the Spotlight
We have started discussing the EU elections with presidents of the political groups in the European Parliament. This week we interviewed Terry Reintke, the co-president of the Greens/EFA group, about the future campaign and the Spitzenkandidat process.
Germany’s monthly public transport ticket gains 10 million subscribers. Over 10 million people have subscribed to the €49 monthly ticket for all regional public transport in Germany, including local buses, trams, and trains.
Ireland to work with Germany on green hydrogen. A joint declaration to cooperate on green hydrogen production was signed by Irish Climate and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan and German counterpart Mario Brandenburg on Wednesday.
Bulgarian prosecutor requests the removal of Borissov’s immunity. The Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office has requested the removal of the immunity of GERB party leader and former prime minister Boyko Borisov as part of an investigation into the ‘Barcelonagate’ money laundering case.
Croatia announces plan to double firefighting plane fleet. The European Commission plans to organise and finance the purchase of firefighting aircraft, and Croatia has applied to be one among the member states to receive these planes, the head of Croatia’s civil protection directorate, Damir Trut, said in Brussels on Tuesday.
Inside the institutions
Frontex risk analyses based on unreliable information, EU watchdog says. The EU border management agency Frontex produces untrustworthy risk analyses on migration due to the ‘low reliability of the data collected’, an investigation conducted by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) found on Wednesday (31 May).
EU ethics body will not have sanctioning powers, Commission says. The new EU Ethics Body will harmonise transparency standards for EU politicians in nine EU institutions but will not have investigative and sanctioning powers, a European Commission source told EURACTIV.
Commission issues internal guidelines on ChatGPT, generative AI. The European Commission issued on Tuesday (30 May) internal guidelines for staff on using and interacting with online generative AI models, in particular addressing their limitations and risks.
EPP launches last-minute attack on corporate due diligence law. Right-wing MEPs attempt to collapse a compromise deal on the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive ahead of a crucial European Parliament vote on Thursday (1 June).
First hydrogen bank auction will help gauge market, Commission says. The first auction to support green hydrogen production in Europe will help understand supply and demand on the emerging EU market when it takes place at the end of the year, according to the European Commission.
Commissioner wants to extend restrictions on Ukraine’s agri commodities. The temporary trade restrictions on four agricultural products from Ukraine to five European ‘frontline’ countries need to be prolonged at least to October, according to the EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.
What we are reading
We have stepped up the fight against terrorism as part of our Nato bid, writes Swedish PM Ulf Kristersson for the Financial Times
Tunisia was the hope of the Arab spring. Now my father could face the death penalty for his words, writes Soumaya Ghannoushi for The Guardian
How the EU’s money for waste went to waste in Lebanon, writes Moda Deely for the EU Observer
The next week in politics
Justice and Home Affairs Council next week, (8-9 June), as well as informal meeting of agriculture and fisheries minister (11-13 June)
European Parliament plenary session next week in Strasbourg
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to contact us for leaks, tips or comments, drop us a line at [email protected] / [email protected] or contact us on Twitter: @EleonorasVasques & @benfox83
[Edited by Alice Taylor]
Read more with EURACTIV
MEPs condemn Hungary but diplomats play down threat to EU presidencyMEPs doubled down on their criticism of Hungary on Thursday (1 June), backing a motion that threatens to use blocking tactics to disrupt Hungary’s EU presidency next year.