Europe needs to bolster defenses against Russian meddling substantially ahead of upcoming elections, notably by spending much more, MEPs argued Wednesday during a plenary debate in Strasbourg.
“Next year the citizens of Europe will elect a new European Parliament. How many seats will Russia get? Let’s not kid ourselves. Russian meddling is becoming the norm,” said Jeppe Kofod, a Danish MEP from the Socialists & Democrats group.
The EU already has tools to counteract Russian influence. The External Action Service’s East StratCom task force works to root out and identify Russian disinformation, while the European Commission is due to publish a broader European strategy against disinformation in April.
But some MEPs say such tools are not enough. East StratCom has around a dozen staffers and €1 million in funding — a fraction of the estimated €1 billion that Russia spends on propaganda and disinformation, said Spanish European People’s Party MEP Esteban Gonzáles Pons.
East Stratcom needs “adequate funding and increased personnel” to do its job properly, argued David McAllister, a German MEP for the European People’s Party.
Some Euroskeptic MEPs disagreed and applauded state-sponsored Russian channels RT and Sputnik for offering them a platform.
“I am more concerned with EU propaganda than the clunky Russian version,” said David Coburn, a U.K. MEP and member of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). “Russia Today gave UKIP a voice when we couldn’t get it on the BBC. Perhaps they are defending freedom. So thank God for them.”