Friday, December 8, 2023

Interview: Battling disinformation in Europe

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NE Global spoke with Italian MEP Marco Dreosto about being a member of the Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE) and his trip to Taiwan. His delegation of seven MEPs arrived in Taipei on November 3, 2021, for a three-day visit aimed at learning more about the country’s ongoing efforts to counter disinformation and defend democracy amidst ongoing threats from Communist China. INGE, led by France’s Raphael Glucksmann, recently finalized a report about the tripe that will be voted on, in principle, in March by the European Parliament plenary.

NE Global’s Federico Grandesso (FG): How has this new committee operated in order to provide the EU with tools to combat fake news in the future?

Marco Dreosto (MD): Its objective was quite broad, and it was set up specifically for this problem. There is interference in European democracies through disinformation practised by third parties against the bloc, but also against the individual countries in the EU. It is a very complex issue, with wide-ranging media, political and technological implications. It is a committee that has worked very hard. Above all, in recent months it has tried to gather information through all possible channels, but also through those that can be considered the most reliable, such as research carried out by institutions.

The latest case was that of Taiwan, where we went to understand the best practices that are used. A large part of the investigation was to understand what and how interference was orchestrated by third parties. I must tell you that the debate is wide, especially in a world of highly communicative social media where all information passes through the net. Everybody basically tries to use these tools to spread information, which then obviously can be, depending on the case, true or false. We’ve had dossiers from practically every country. We’ve had information coming in from the United States, Russia, China, and other Asian countries, including Taiwan, and the Middle East. What emerges is that there is in fact a problem. It is a widespread issue that is very difficult to manage.

The purpose of this committee was to draw up a document, a report, that will be submitted to the European Commission in order to indicate what measures might be taken, including from the information point of view, to try to contain this phenomenon in some way. During our work, from the point of view of method, there is a lot of journalistic information that can obviously be taken into consideration, but we prefer to have concrete studies that actually show what interference is being exercised against other countries.

FG: There are a lot of discussions about Russia as the major perpetrators of disinformation in the world. What can you tell me about Russia? What are the findings telling us?

MD: The issue of foreign interference is practically the same for all states, so there is no country that has more or less responsible than any other. All of them basically try to make their positions appear true and to exercise their power towards other nations in a way that is functional to what their system is. What I can tell you is that the measures that Russia and China have used are the same. There is no specific case. There are many cases and many situations that make up a dossier. But the subject is very complex because, between information and disinformation, there is a very thin line, and also not very easy to interpret.

FG: Is fake news also being developed at the government level or are there private interests involved?

MD: It is very difficult to trace propaganda actions back to governments, precisely because they are structured not to be recognizable and not to identify who the creator was. We are interested in highlighting the problem in this way. We are not a tribunal that goes to investigate who caused the problem. We highlight what the problem is and what the solution is to put in place to avoid the problem. That’s the purpose of this committee. We are not a court of justice. Not at all.

FG: Regarding Taiwan, is there any member of your committee who wants to go back a second time?

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and Raphael Glucksmann, head of the European Parliament’s special committee on foreign interference, meet in Taipei, Taiwan.

MD: Apart from the European debate, I had the opportunity to meet the representatives of Taiwan in Brussels and we hope to go back there. We went there in the middle of a health emergency, so maybe it would be nice to go back to a normal condition. Our experience was very interesting, we met all the members of the government apparatus and we had very fruitful meetings.

Obviously, there was also a political aspect, because I am part of the Lega (a major Italian center-right party) delegation. Lega is planning to return to Taiwan. The problem is that it’s very difficult to go there now because it’s closed for health reasons. You can only go there for work, not for tourism, and the 15-day quarantine is very complicated.

FG: Are you planning a second trip to Taiwan?

MD: Yes, in my opinion, there are important opportunities to establish business relationships with technologically advanced companies, especially in the strategic field of semi-conductors, and perhaps undertake trade exchanges with specific Italian companies.

FG: There is one point we cannot forget: How do you assess relations with Italy and Taiwan?

MD: At this point, international relations are very complicated because of the pandemic. We then had a period in which Beppe Grillo and the Five Star Movement approached China with programs such as the ‘Belt and Road’ and so on. These are two objective factors that are part of history. I believe that Italy must be a trading partner with everyone. There is a problem of a humanitarian nature and protection of civil rights on which we do not intend to take a step backwards. We have to defend our national strategic assets and we have reviewed the agreements that were made previously. Furthermore, economic agreements must be maintained, but not at the expense of human rights. The consideration that the European Commission has to make is consequential to these aspects.

FG: Are there any steps forward in relations between Italy and Taiwan?

MD: There are many Italian companies that are collaborating with Taiwanese companies and there is already an important exchange, but there are no agreements at the government or European level because of Chinese pressure. The problem is that Taiwan is not recognized as a state and this complicates things with all the other states and their relations. If the EU wants to claim its role in this scenario, it must understand the dynamics involved in having the status of a territory (Taiwan) with a very high level of democracy recognized by the world community. I will then personally go to Rome to meet with the heads of the Taiwan office to discuss all these important issues I mentioned earlier.
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Managing Editor of European Union & Italian Political Affairs


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