Stop Foreign Power Interference in Europe

Powerful opponents have shown their ability and intent to disrupt Europe’s democratic processes. We need to ramp up our defenses and take the fight to them.

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Malicious and authoritarian foreign state and non-state actors, such as Russia, China and some Middle-Eastern states, have repeatedly used information manipulation, intimidation, economic coercion, political funding, corruption, and other tactics to interfere in democratic processes in the EU.

According to the Authoritarian Interference Tracker, there are more than 300 instances of external interference from China and Russia in Europe.

Table 1: Interference Incidents by Russia and China

Type Russia China
Information Manipulation 97 23
Civil Society Subversion 50 48
Economic Coercion 35 32
Cyber Operations 38 11
Malign Finance 32 5
Total 252 119

Part of a hybrid warfare strategy aimed at destabilizing European democracy, these actors have deceived our citizens, amplified divisive debates, attempted to distort the integrity of democratic elections and referendums, sow distrust in public authorities and the liberal democratic order.

These attacks, which constitute a serious threat to EU security and sovereignty, are mainly (but not exclusively), the result of concerted actions of three main threat actors:

  • Russia: predominantly utilizing “hard power” tactics, the Kremlin uses disinformation, active measures, assassination and intimidation, as well as funding anti-EU parties, with the goal of disrupting democratic cycles and creating a climate of confusion and fear
  • China: economic coercion, encouraging self-censorship, acquisition of media outlets and digital platforms, using student associations to intimidate academics, establishing illegal police stations on European soil, and  spreading disinformation to encourage a state of deference to China and deter the EU from asserting its place as a world leader
  • Middle East: focused on corruption and grassroots activism, foreign actors fund and organize Salafist movements with the goal of radicalizing European islamic communities through discrediting and replacing moderate community leaders with new radical leaders

In addition, threat actors are frequently assisted by corrupt politicians in the Member States, who derive political and economic advantages from favoring foreign strategies. This strategy of using domestic proxies and recruiting domestic allies blurs the line between foreign and domestic interference.

With the recent advent of informational warfare as a key determinant of geopolitical success, foreign interference efforts are expected to accelerate, and new threat actors to emerge.

To address this challenge and free our democracy from foreign influence, a comprehensive strategy is needed focusing both on defensive and offensive responses to interference.

In particular, the following directions should be considered for policy formation:

Transform INGE into a Federal Agency focused on countering propaganda efforts
Engage in both defensive and offensive counter-propaganda against threat actors
Retaliate with an appropriate range of measures and economic sanctions
Strengthen legal framework to investigate and prosecute crimes of interference
Actively support liberal citizens of threat-actor states in promoting European values and universal human rights
Ban state-sponsored instruments of propaganda (e.g. Confucius Institutes) from operating on European soil
Require religious institutions to declare all sources of funding, and ban those with ties to state-sponsored fundamentalism