World / Politics

Warnings of foreign interference in European polls emerge at launch of trans-Atlantic election watchdog

AFP-JIJI

A former NATO chief and an ex-U.S. vice president on Saturday launched a campaign to prevent Russia and other foreign powers from interfering in European parliamentary elections and other upcoming votes.

When 350 million Europeans are asked to vote in May, “malign powers will want to have their say too” in the then 27 EU member states, warned Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former NATO secretary-general and Danish prime minister.

“Based on previous experience, it is highly likely that foreign powers will target many of these elections, either by breaking into electoral systems, covertly supporting candidates or in getting toxic news in traditional and online media,” he said.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned of the attempt, “particularly coming from Russian but also other actors, to undermine confidence of people in each of our countries in the democratic process.”

He pointed to the threat of “cyber attacks, dark money influence operations and disinformation,” speaking at the joint launch of a body called the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity.

The initiative set up an online registry where political parties and candidates are asked to sign a pledge to “not aid and abet those who seek to undermine democracy.”

They would commit not to use materials that were “falsified, fabricated, doxed or stolen for disinformation or propaganda purposes.” The term doxing refers to the publishing of someone’s stolen private data.

They would also promise not to disseminate doctored “deep fake” audio and video recordings, and to make transparent the use of automated or so-called bot networks to disseminate online messages.

The initiative described itself as a transatlantic, bipartisan group of political, tech, business and media leaders who seek to prevent “the next wave of foreign election interference.”

“Foreign election interference is not only a serious threat to our democratic institutions, I believe it’s a threat to our national security,” said Biden.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, where the foreign intelligence chiefs of Germany, France and Britain also met.

After their talks the head of French spy service DGSE, Bernard Emie, in a statement also warned that “the European continent is facing growing threats of meddling and external aggression.”

“It’s coming from state- and nonstate actors,” he said, warning of cyberattacks and “attempts to destabilize the electoral process.”