12 July 2019

European Parliament’s elections/ Political confusions, populist messages and Sankt-Petersburg’s trolls

Sergiu Medar

A few days before European Parliament’s elections, many actions are showing up in Europe, supporting the ideas and principles willing to be on European Parliament's platform within the following parliamentary term. The most aggressive are the radical or even extremist populist parties, supported by Russia, through hybrid warfare’s methods. The big stake is attracting the undecided people to Euroscepticism, by creating mistrust inside the most complex and efficient multinational political and economic organization in history. This can only be made by speculating the current or invented confusions, generated by both opinion polls and some EU leaders’ statements.

Image source: Mediafax

Media’s activity in European Parliament’s elections’ run-up is increasingly intense and even aggressive once voting days are closer and closer. Elections’ competition is between the national parties, thus the result reveals national electorate’s preferences. Voters’ perception about European Union’s functioning or efficiency in terms of the national interests marks the direction towards a pro-European or a nationalist or radical Euro-skeptic party. At the same time, assessments on democratic principles’ presence, coherence and clarity in European Union’s decisions defines public’s confidence and is influencing the voting presence.

Hereof, now we must avoid the confusion that might arise when positioning the European Union over society’s main problems, or the questions on Europe’s future.  

Just one week before European Parliament’s elections, the media published a report entitled "Seven Days to Save the European Union", which was the result of a survey, conducted in March 2019, on a concerning issue, Europe’s disintegration. Without questioning survey’s results, the fact that such a topic got raised near EU Parliament’s elections is a proof of the aggressiveness coming from countries or interest groups seeking to divide Europe. Financing extremist or Eurosceptic parties, as well as think-tanks, in order to increase their propaganda capabilities, subscribes to the same objective.

I thought now is was time to reveal anti-Europeans and Euroskeptics’ interests and arguments and discuss survey’s results, so as to allow the reader create its own perspectives on political and economic union’s viability and effectiveness of all 28 EU Member States.

The survey, conducted at European Council on Foreign Relations’ (think-tank) request, in 14 EU member states (Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Hungary), is questioning European Union’s possible disintegration over the next 10-20 years. In 11 of the 14 states, respondents, over 50%, said that such a scenario would be possible. This percentage has staggered as follows: Slovakia 66%, Poland 58%, Italy 58%, France 58%, Greece 57%, The Netherlands 52%, Germany 51% and Sweden 44%. According to the report, two-thirds of Europeans aged 18 to 34 believe that an EU collapse and even a war within EU are possible.

Marc Leonard, think-tank’s director, based on poll’s result regarding the voting presence, which was showing that in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain most of the voters said they would not vote, has reasoned report’s publication a week before the elections as an impulse for population’s mobilization to vote. It is possible, however, for the outcome to be the opposite, as the confusion may mobilize only the euroskeptics and anti-Europeans, who see that they can actually get a consistent votes’ percentage in the European Parliament.

It is surprising how in EU’s 1950 founding countries, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Netherlands there is the largest number of Euroskeptics in terms of the Union their parents have created. Indeed, Jean-Claude Juncker himself, president of the European Commission, who’s from Luxembourg, and his deputy, Dutchman Frans Timmermans, stated, about two years ago, that European Union will fall apart in the next 10-20 years.

For the right-wing radical forces to actually give a signal and mobilize the undecided, as well as to prove their force, European populists met in Milan, in a strong public manifestation, at Italian interior minister and Italy’s Northern League (Lega Nord) chairman invitation, Matteo Salvini. He was accompanied by Marine Le Pen, Frances’ National Assembly’s President (the former National Front). Leaders of both populist parties will form, within the European Parliament, the Europe of Nations and Liberty group, which, perhaps in size, will be the new European Parliament’s third party.

At the Milan meeting, have participated radical and populist representatives from 11 EU member states. There were no leaders of the Austrian Freedom Party, the Belgian Vlaams Belang Party, Netherlands’ Liberty Party, Volya from Bulgaria, Sme Rodina from Slovakia and other European groups and parties.

Event’s great absent was the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, leader of the populist party, Fidesz. He promised cooperation with Salvini, after the vote, but he does not want to join an alliance with Ms. Le Pen now. Nor did the Party for Justice and Justice, Poland’s governmental party, take part at the event.

All these parties share the same position in terms of migration, but they have different stances for other issues, such as European budget, immigrants’ distribution or the attitude towards Moscow.

On 9th of May, it was held the informal EU Summit, in Sibiu. On this occasion, each country called, in an electoral manner, on national interest subjects. Romania had all this summit’s advantages, because population’s reaction, in Sibiu’s Big Square, on the European leaders was more European than any other country.

On this occasion, leaders signed a declaration on Europe’s future. This statement’s great value lies in European states’ unity message against European society’s issues. This message holds an opened door for future negotiations and approaches. For those who were waiting only for this message, issues being discussed and addressed later, the summit reached its goal. Running just two weeks before the European Parliament elections, voters only sought for answers to major issues: climate change, migration, energy, Europe's political and economic relations’ development between European states, European defence, US relations or Russia to be mentioned so that the voters to be able to take a stance. Unity’s message has been altered by the confusion that may arise, however, from the phrase on fairness principle, when contradicted by the exact people who signed it. Frans Timmermans, EU Commission vice-president, said, two years ago, that "small states must know they are small", as did Emmanuel Macron, who has been in favor of a two-speeds Europe.

In elections’ run-up, confusion is messing things out, because they keep the undecided people (representing the majority) away from the ballot boxes. Considering votes’ number, Euroskeptics and populists are not too many, but they vote and that is why they can finally get that number that could affect the democratic majority.

These parties and movements are supported by Moscow, primarily through St. Petersburg’s trolls.

8 months before the European Parliamentary elections, Jean-Claude Juncker said that "we have to bring the electoral legislation to the digital era to protect our democracy”. Then, for two months, they set up an action plan, to allow the creation of a funding, communication, warning and monitoring system, as well as of a warning system for the cross-border disinformation campaign. Facebook, Twitter and Google have cooperated to create them.

Jakub Kalensky, a US Atlantic Council think tank analyst, who worked, for three years, at Task Force (EC)[1], EU's elite unit to combat Russia's efforts to undermine European democracy, stated disappointedly: "We expect to solve this problem within the two months we have until the elections, when the Russians have been working for it for 5 years?".

 East StratCom says that the Troll Company, from St. Petersburg, spends about $1 million per month to misinform the world, 24 hours a day, while EU’s unit, set up in 2005, has reached a staff composed of 16 people and a $ 5 million a year budget. Despite this public information, which may also be a "fake news" component, we must also keep in mind that even if what Kalensky says was true, EU member states also have their national capabilities that can use to counter Russia's aggressiveness.

Given the arguments presented above, we can state that populist or extremist parties’ actions supported by Russia, to break the European Union, must be treated carefully. Emphasizing the already existing confusion within EU, through hybrid warfare’s methods, Moscow will seek to divide the European states and support the Eurosceptic and radical parties, in order to diminish European Union’s functioning. National parties’ support for democratic principles and for the rule of law is these effort’ only combat method that would affect the strongest and most effective political and economic association in the world.

Translated by Andreea Soare