Category Archives: European Union

(BI) Russia is joining forces with Europe to rescue the Iran nuclear deal that Trump abandoned

(BI)

putin rouhani russia iran

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

  • The Financial Times reported that Russia has signaled it wants  join an EU payments channel designed to go around Trump’s sanctions on Iran and boost oil exports. 
  • The channel, known as Instex, would be a huge step in rescuing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal which Trump abandoned last year. 
  • Iran has been been in breach of the deal recently by going past levels of uranium enrichment set by the 2015 deal. 
  • View Markets Insider for more stories.

Russia has signaled it wants to team up with the European Union in joining an EU payments channel, avoiding US sanctions banning trade with Iran and boost oil exports, the Financial Times reported. 

The payments channel, Instex, would be a massive step forward in attempts by the EU and Russia in rescuing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. 

Iran’s President Rouhani and President Trump have in the past year been at loggerheads over the nuclear deal, with Trump abandoning it last May. 

Read More: How the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch of water where ships transport $1.2 billion worth of oil every day, is at the heart of spiraling tensions with Iran

The move by Moscow to work with the EU is also surprising, given the little cooperation between the two parties since Russian annexed Crimea in 2014, attempted murder of a double agent in the UK, and alleged attempts to meddle in EU elections. 

However, it also marks a move by both the EU and Moscow to ignore Trump’s sanctions. Since he pulled out of the deal last May, France, Germany, China, the UK, and Russia all have been trying to maintain trade with Iran, but have been hindered by companies not wanting to risk problems with the White House.

Since then Iran has breached the deal by going above the agreed limit on uranium enrichment levels, out of retaliation for US sanctions on Iran. 

“Russia is interested in close co-ordination with the European Union on Instex,” the Russian foreign ministry told the Financial Times. It added that it would become more effective as more countries got involved. 

Iran has been expressing it’s frustration with the other parties who signed the 2015 deal at not helping Iran after the US imposed sanctions — namely on oil imports, which is Iran’s most valuable commodity. 

In a televised speech on Sunday, Iranian President Rouhani said “we are ready to hold talks with America today,” but wants to return to the Obama-era nuclear agreement and have the economic sanctions from President Donald Trump’s administration lifted before that happens.

(EUobserver) EU selling more goods to US despite Trump tariffs

(EUobserver)

The EU’s goods trade surplus with the US for the first five months of 2019 rose to €62.1bn from €55.4bn in the same period last year. The increase could stoke tensions after the US already imposed tariffs on some EU exports to get the numbers down. At the same time, Europe’s trade deficit with China grew to €76.7bn from €69.2bn, amid complaints China unfairly restricts market access for foreign firms.

(EUobserver) EU draws up Venezuela torture sanctions

(EUobserver)

The EU “is ready to start work toward applying targeted measures for those members of the security forces involved in torture and other serious violations of human rights” in Venezuela, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday. Spain had pushed for sanctions over allegations that Rafael Acosta, a navy captain and opposition figurehead, had been tortured to death in custody. “She [Mogherini] threatens us with loathsome comments”, Venezuela said.

(EUobserver) EU satellite system temporarily offline

(EUobserver)

Services of the EU’s satellite navigation system Galileo, offline since Thursday, have been interrupted by “a technical incident related to its ground infrastructure”, the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency said Sunday. Its search and rescue service remained operational, the agency added. Galileo is still in its pilot phase, and is due to be fully operational next year. The €10bn project is an alternative to US-owned GPS.

(BBC) France passes tax on tech giants despite US threats

(BBC)

A visitor walks in front of a Google logo during a show at Parc des Expositions in May 2018

France has approved a digital services tax despite threats of retaliation by the US, which argues that it unfairly targets American tech giants.

The 3% tax will be levied on sales generated in France by multinational firms like Google and Facebook.

The French government has argued that such firms headquartered outside the country pay little or no tax.

The US administration has ordered an inquiry into the move – which could result in retaliatory tariffs.

The new tax was approved by the French senate on Thursday, a week after it was passed by the lower house, the National Assembly.

Any digital company with revenue of more than €750m ($850m; £670m) – of which at least €25m is generated in France – would be subject to the levy.

It will be retroactively applied from early 2019, and is expected to raise about €400m this year.

Why target tech giants?

At present, they are able to pay little or no corporate tax in countries where they do not have a large physical presence. They declare most of their profits where they are headquartered.

The European Commission estimates that on average traditional businesses face a 23% tax rate on their profits within the EU, while internet companies typically pay 8% or 9%.

France has long argued that taxes should be based on digital, not just physical presence. It announced its own tax on big technology firms last year after EU-wide efforts stalled.

An EU levy would require consensus among members, but Ireland, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland raised objections.

France’s new 3% tax will be based on sales made in the country, rather than on profits.

About 30 – mostly American companies – will pay it. Chinese, German, Spanish and British firms will also be affected.

The French government says the tax will end if a similar measure is agreed internationally.

The big tech companies have argued they are complying with national and international tax laws.

What has the US said?

The Trump administration denounced the move a day before the vote.

On Wednesday trade representative Robert Lighthizer said an investigation would “determine whether it is discriminatory or unreasonable and burdens or restricts United States commerce”.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer
Image captionUS Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said President Trump ordered the investigation

The US inquiry could pave the way for punitive tariffs, which Mr Trump has imposed on several occasions since taking office.

Previous investigations launched by Washington have covered European Union and Chinese trade practices.

Defending the new tax on Thursday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said France was “sovereign and decided its own tax rules”.

“I want to tell our American friends that this should be an incentive for them to accelerate even more our work to find an agreement on the international taxation of digital services,” he added.

Grey line

France isolated

Analysis by Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter

This “Section 301” investigation, as it is known, has been used before as a way of eventually implementing new tariffs on countries the Trump administration feels is taking the US for a ride.

If France is going to take hundreds of millions of euros from the pockets of American tech giants, the US argument might be, then why shouldn’t the US earn more money from what the French do in the US? It took the same view with China and has buried itself in a trade war that has destabilised relations and has the potential to escalate even further.

The digital tax is a risk for France, for it is now isolated. There had been talk of a Europe-wide tech tax, but talks fell down thanks in part to opposition from countries such as Ireland, which has benefitted from being able to attract tech firms to set up their European base in the country. Other countries – such as the UK, Spain and Austria – are considering similar moves, but France is furthest along.

One thing all sides agree on, however, is that in our modern, digital economy, the overhaul of how companies are taxed is long overdue.

France will be hoping for one of two outcomes. Either countries follow their lead and implement their own, independent laws, limiting France’s exposure. Or the move gives added energy to calls for a multilateral agreement on how digital firms should be taxed globally, putting an end to the squirreling-away of vast sums of money made by internet giants.

(EUobserver) New US-Israel-EU parliament group launched

(EUobserver)

The Brussels-based American Jewish Committee (AJC) Transatlantic Institute announced on Tuesday in the European Parliament an inter-parliamentary Transatlantic Friends of Israel (TFI) group. The goal is to “strengthen the trilateral partnership between the US, Israel and Europe”. The chairman of the group, Austrian MEP Lukas Mandl, said he considered “the transatlantic alliance with Israel one of the most important issues of our time”.

(EUobserver) Russia approves China-Europe highway

(EUobserver)

The Russian government has approved the plans to construct a toll-highway between Kazakhstan and Belarus, connecting China and Europe. It is the missing part of the so-called ‘Meridian highway’. It would make transportation between China and Europe faster than three current rail corridors. Gazprom estimated the 2,000km highway project would cost around €10bn and would take between 12 to 14 years of construction.

(EUobserver) EU needs to reform top jobs system, parliament chief says

(EUobserver)

The EU should consider holding “an intergovernmental conference on the subject of its democratic instruments”, the new president of the European Parliament (EP), David Sassoli has told Italian daily Corriere della Sera. “We really believed in the lead candidates … but it didn’t happen,” he said, after EU leaders recently ignored EP groups’ choices for top posts, prompting his own elevation to the parliament post in a political fudge.

(ECO) Pedro Silva Pereira eleito um dos 14 vice-presidentes do Parlamento Europeu

(ECO) Pedro Silva Pereira foi escolhido como um dos 14 vice-presidentes do Parlamento Europeu. O nome do antigo ministro socialista foi acordado, juntamente com outros nove, entre os três maiores grupos.

O português Pedro Silva Pereira foi eleito vice-presidente do Parlamento Europeu, com 556 votos, confirmou o ECO junto de fonte oficial do Partido Socialista. O ex-ministro da Presidência de José Sócrates foi um de 10 nomes para os 14 lugares de vice-presidente do Parlamento Europeu acordados previamente entre os três maiores grupos políticos: o Partido Popular Europeu (PPE); os socialistas do S&D; e os Liberais do grupo Renovar a Europa.

Depois de eleito o presidente do Parlamento Europeu esta manhã — o socialista italiano David-Maria Sassoli –, os eurodeputados voltaram a votar esta tarde para escolher os 14 vice-presidentes que vão secundar o italiano nos próximos dois anos e meio.

Entre estes nomes estava o de Pedro Silva Pereira, que foi eleito esta quarta-feira com 556 votos. O ex-ministro socialista fazia parte de um grupo de 10 nomes que foram acordados previamente pelas três maiores famílias políticas no Parlamento Europeu, o centro-direita, o centro-esquerda e os liberais.

“A minha eleição para vice presidente do PE valoriza a voz de Portugal na Europa e é também um importante reconhecimento internacional do trabalho que tenho feito ao serviço do projeto europeu”, afirmou em Estrasburgo, em declarações transmitidas pelas televisões, sublinhando que assume vê a posição alcançada “como uma importante trincheira para defender a democracia europeia“.

No mesmo sentido, Pedro Silva Pereira salientou que “as negociações dos últimos dias mostram bem como precisamos de valorizar democracia europeia e de reforçar o Parlamento Europeu para que a vontade política dos cidadãos expressa nas eleições tenha consequêncianas decisões politicas da construção europeia”.

Nessa lista de 10 nomes que os eurodeputados dos três maiores grupos políticos no Parlamento Europeus receberam instruções para votar, a que o ECO teve acesso, estão cinco eurodeputados do PPE (família política a que pertencem o PSD e o CDS-PP), três socialistas— incluindo Pedro Silva Pereira — e ainda dois liberais do novo grupo Renovar a Europa, que junta o ALDE e o novo partido criado por Emmanuel Macron.

Na missiva, os grupos políticos pedem aos eurodeputados para votarem neste lote de candidatos na sequência de um “acordo pró-europeu” alcançado entre estes três grupos políticos. Entre os membros eleitos vice-presidentes desta lista está, indicado pelo PPE, a eurodeputada húngara Lívia Járóka.

Esta eurodeputada faz parte do partido húngaro Fidesz, do primeiro-ministro da Hungria Viktor Órban, partido esse que está atualmente suspenso do PPE devido às violações do Estado de Direito apontadas à Hungria pela Comissão Europeia e secundadas pelo PPE.

(EUobserver) EU’s top banks still far from crisis-proof, regulator warns

(EUobserver)

  • EU states were forced to set aside more than a trillion euros to prop up risky banks in the wake of the crisis (Photo: eba.europa.eu)

The EU’s top banks ought to keep more money in reserve, making them less profitable, in order to prevent another 2008-type crisis, Europe’s banking supervisor has said.

The bloc’s largest banks had a total capital shortfall of €135bn “under the most conservative assumptions”, the European Banking Agency (EBA) in Paris said in a report on Tuesday (2 July).

The shortfall was measured against new capital rules agreed in 2017 by the so-called Basel Committee, a global supervisory body at the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, which helps its 60 member countries’ central banks to work together.

It is far lower than the EU shortfall of €277bn recorded in the immediate wake of the crisis in 2009.

The crisis saw the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers due to excessive risk taking.

Its knock-on effects also forced EU states to allocate €1.6 trillion of state funds in the following years in order to prop up wobbly lenders and generated political momentum for a “banking union”, which remains a work in progress.

The new Basel rules, informally called Basel IV, are due to enter into force between 2022 and 2027.

The EU’s banks ought to increase their minimum capital levels by 24.4 percent in order to comply, the EBA said on Tuesday.

The figure was a steep hike from its 2017 estimate of 15.2 percent.

But the obligation to hold on to profits instead of reinvesting them or paying them out to shareholders could make European lenders less competitive.

It could also have a cooling effect on Europe’s economy.

“Given that these banks are responsible for the large majority of lending to businesses and individuals across Europe, the requirement to hold higher capital levels could have negative consequences for the supply and pricing of bank finance,” Michael Lever, from the Association for Financial Markets in Europe, a Brussels-based trade lobby, told the Financial Times.

The EBA survey covered 189 lenders in Europe.

But it said the total €135bn shortfall was being “almost entirely driven by large globally active banks”.

Medium-sized EU banks accounted for just €5.5bn of that figure and ought to boost minimum capital levels by 11.3 percent, the EBA said.

Small banks had a €0.1bn shortfall and needed to raise capital by 5.5 percent, it added.

(EUobserver) EU leaders nominate first female EU commission chief

(EUobserver)

  • Brussels-born Ursula Von Der Leyen will still need to be approve by the EU parliament (Photo: securityconference.de)

EU leaders agreed to nominate the current German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to be the first woman president of the EU commission on Tuesday (2 July) – but only after three consecutive days of discussions that often exposed deep division among the 28 heads of state and government.

The EU parliament still needs to give its final approval for von der Leyen, and many MEPs are angered by the deal, which picked a commission president who was not a lead candidate in the European elections last May.

(Zeit) The New Colors of Europe

(Zeit) EU voters have redistributed power and the European Parliament will now begin its work. The following are the results from close to 80,000 regions.Von Paul BlickleArnold PlatonMichael SchliebenJulius Tröger undSascha Venohr2. Juli 2019, 14:53 Uhr1 Kommentar

In May, 400 million people were called upon to vote for a new European Parliament. This week, the newly recomposed parliament is set to take up its work. This map shows how the 78,818 regions voted. The colors on the map reflect the party group that received the most votes in each region.

Parties can never be assigned to a single category with absolute accuracy because there is often overlap in the different political currents. Moreover, depending on the country in question, there are very different ideas about what contemporary left-wing or conservative politics looks like. The ongoing discussion within the European People’s Party (EPP), the group of European center-right parties, over whether Hungary’s Fidesz party still represents the same values as the other parties in the group is but one prominent example of such a debate. Our classification of parties into a particular family is based on the classification which the parties themselves have made in Brussels. They have joined together in the form of party groups and factions in the European Parliament, and they are categorized accordingly here. 

The categories can be found in the bar at the top of the map. They’re arranged according to the strength of the factions. It begins with the strongest faction, the party family of the conservative Christian Democrats, and ends with the group to which Germany’s far-left Left Party belongs. 

For the purposes of this map and to improve clarity, we have given then shorter names to describe their political orientation more succinctly than their often unwieldy real names do. The European Conservatives and Reformers party group, for example, has been named here as “Conservative.”  

If you click on a party category, the Continent will then take on the appropriate color. The more intense the shade, the greater the number of people who voted in that region for a party in that category. 

It is sometimes the case that politicians from a single party join different party groups in Brussels. Germany’s Die Partei (The Party) is one such example. One of the party’s two parliamentarians is joining the Greens’ party group, while the other plans to remain independent. We have sought to take such splits into account in our presentation. There are also small parties in Brussels that don’t form or join party groups or factions. In Germany, for example, this is the case with two small parties, Volt and the Pirate Party. Both have joined the Greens’ party group in European Parliament and are classified accordingly here.

1) Three Party Groups on the Right

At times, parties with similar ideological foundations are unable or unwilling to create a party alliance in Brussels. Europe’s far-right, populist and national-conservative parties have traditionally had trouble joining forces with each other. The current legislative period will feature three party groups on the right that will be working independently from each other in European Parliament.

The “National conservatives” are dominated by the Poland’s Law and Justice (PIS) party and Britain’s Torries. The European Conservatives and Reformers is the official name they have chosen for their group.

In the “Eurosceptics,” it’s Italy’s Five-Star Movement and Britain’s Brexit Party that set the tone. But the group hasn’t managed to gather enough supporters to form an official faction (as of July 2). It remains to be seen whether they will succeed or whether their members of parliament will join other groups.

The “Far right” unites the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and France’s Rassemblement National. They call their faction in the European Parliament the Identity and Democracy group.

© ZEIT ONLINE

2) Urban-Rural Differences

In some countries, the distribution of colors clearly indicates where the major cities are located. A striking example is France. In the large cities of Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Toulouse and Lille, President Emmanuel Macron’s economically liberal La République en Marche party is usually the strongest force. But the situation looks very different in rural France, where the far-right Rassemblement National holds dominance.

© ZEIT ONLINE

Similar differences in voting behavior between the cities and rural areas can be found in many EU countries, including the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Germany.

3) Only Half of Europe Is Green

In addition to the right-wing or right-wing populist parties, the Greens also emerged victorious from the European Parliament Elections. They performed better than in 2014 – in Germany, especially, but also in other countries in Northern and Western Europe. 

But a closer look at the map also shows that the movement doesn’t have strong appeal across all of Europe. Environmentalist parties are still struggling to find their footing in Southern and Eastern Europe. They’re not even represented at all in some countries. This map is coloured according to the election results of The Greens/European Free Alliance group. It is essentially supported by two European parties, the European Green Party (EGP) and the regionalist European Free Alliance (EFA).  The EFA also includes, for example, the Scottish National Party.

© ZEIT ONLINE

4) White spots

In some regions, the strongest parties by far are not represented in the European Parliament. A striking example of this is the south of Slovakia. Half a million Hungarians form the largest ethnic minority there. This corresponds to around eight percent of the total Slovakian population. The Magyars divided their votes between two parties, which primarily represent their minority interests. Both, however, failed at the five-percent national hurdle. The white corridor on the electoral map in the south of the country shows that they failed to land seats in the new European Parliament.

© ZEIT ONLINE

It’s also possible that the strongest party in a particular region chose not to join any of the existing party groups in Brussels. An example of this is the separatist party Lliures Per Europa from Catalonia.

© ZEIT ONLINE

(DW) EU leaders reconvene to resolve top jobs impasse

(DW)

After marathon talks ended without a compromise, EU leaders are meeting again to try and overcome a deadlock over key job nominations. The talks come as the newly elected European Parliament kicked off its first session.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at an EU leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium (AFP/Getty Images/G. Van der Hasselt)

European Union leaders gathered in Brussels on Tuesday for a third day of talks after they failed to come to an agreement on the bloc’s top jobs during a marathon 18-hour session the day before.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was entering Tuesday’s talks with “new creativity” and urged other leaders to be more open to compromise.

“I think that everyone understands that they need to move a bit” in order to achieve a result, she said. Her remarks come after Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia opposed a possible compromise the day before.

The official start of Tuesday’s summit was delayed until the afternoon as European Council chairman Donald Tusk continued separate talks with leaders.

Leaders from the bloc’s 28 member-states have been in disagreement for weeks over naming a successor to outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Much of the impasse is centered on picking a nominee to succeed Juncker, who heads the EU’s powerful executive arm. The leaders also hope to name a new European Council president as well as a foreign policy chief.

This requires the approval of 21 of the 28 EU leaders, representing 65% of the bloc’s population. The top job nominations must also have a geographical and gender balance that represents both the smaller and larger member states.

Frans Timmermans (picture-alliance/XinHua)

Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands emerged as a surprise favorite for the top European Commission job

Timmermans ‘not acceptable’ for some EU states

Following talks yesterday, Dutch Social Democrat Frans Timmermans was favored to take the top European Commission post.

That option didn’t sit well with some EU member states, as Timmermans has been a vocal supporter of the refugee quota distribution system and threatened legal action in order to improve rule of law in Hungary and Poland.

“We want somebody on the presidency of the commission who doesn’t have a negative view on our region. Mr. Timmermans is not acceptable for us. That’s it,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters as he arrived in Brussels.

Timmermans main challenger Manfred Weber, a German EU lawmaker with the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), could possibly end up being the speaker of the European Parliament. Going into the talks, Weber had been favored to succeed Juncker, but appears to have slipped in the rankings during negotiations.

  • CANDIDATES FOR EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENTManfred Weber (EPP)The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) — the largest faction in the European Parliament — has picked Manfred Weber, its German parliamentary party leader. He has the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Though considered the front-runner, Weber is little known on the international stage, and his language skills are considered poor.

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European Parliament convenes

The talks in Brussels came as the European Parliament opened its first post-election session in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

The opening session was disrupted by some newly elected legislators from right-wing parties, Catalan independence supporters and others.

Some lawmakers with the Brexit Party were seen turning their backs while the EU’s anthem “Ode to Joy” was playing.

Once the 28 EU leaders make a final decision on the candidates for the top jobs, these must be approved by the European Parliament. Lawmakers are due to vote on a new leader for the European Parliament on Wednesday.

The new session follows elections in May that saw the bloc’s two traditional center-right and center-left parties lose votes, while the Greens and far-right parties saw solid gains.

(Reuters) USTR proposes $4 bln in potential additional tariffs over EU aircraft subsidies

(Reuters)

WASHINGTON, July 1 (Reuters) – The U.S. Trade Representative’s office on Monday released a $4 billion list of additional products that could be hit with tariffs in an ongoing dispute with the European Union over its subsidies on civil aircraft.

The list, which includes a range of European foods and liquor, adds to products valued at $21 billion that USTR had identified in April as facing possible tariffs.

USTR said it was adding to its initial list in response to public comments and following additional analysis, but gave no further explanation.

(ZH) Dalai Lama: Europe Will Turn “Muslim Or African” If Migrants Not Returned “To Their Own Land”

(ZH)

The Dalai Lama has warned that ‘the whole of Europe will eventually become a Muslim, African country” unless refugees that have been taken in are not returned to their home countries.

Speaking with the BBC‘s Rajini Vaidyanathan from his home in the mountainous town of McLeod-Ganj in Northern India, the 83-year-old spiritual leader said that while Europe was under an obligation to take in those who need help, they must ultimately be returned to their homelands. 

“European countries should take these refugees and give them education and training, and the aim is return to their own land with certain skills,” said the Dalai Lama, adding “A limited number is OK, but the whole of Europe [will] eventually become Muslim country, African country – impossible.” 

“Receive them [migrants], help them, educate them, but ultimately they should develop their own country. I think Europe belongs to the Europeans.” 

We wonder if virtue-signaling liberals will peel off their “Free Tibet” bumper stickers now that their idol is one pair of Khakis and a tiki-torch away from Europe’s identitarian movement? 

The Dalai Lama sought refuge in India, where he has been living in exile with 10,000 Tibetans. The view from the Dalai Lama’s residence in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh (via BBC)

His monastery – which overlooks the snow-capped peaks of the Dhauladhar range in the Himalayas – is breathtakingly beautiful. But the view is bittersweet.

His life’s cause – to return home – remains a distant dream, even if he insists it may yet happen. “The Tibetan people have trust in me, they ask me [to] come to Tibet,” he says.

But in the next breath he adds that India has also become his “spiritual home”. An implicit acceptance, perhaps, that his goal of an autonomous Tibet is far from reality. –BBC

When asked about President Trump, the Buddhist monk said that he “lacked moral principle” and that the administration’s America first policy is “wrong.”  

(EUobserver) EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam

(EUobserver)

The EU will sign an accord with Vietnam this Sunday to remove virtually all customs duties on trade, the EU commission said Tuesday. The agreement was negotiated in December 2015, but EU member states only gave their approval on Tuesday at a ministerial meeting. EU-Vietnam trade represents €50bn in goods and €4bn in services, according to the commission. The EU parliament will is expected to ratify the deal later.

(Politico) Russian groups targeted EU election with fake news, says European Commission

(Politico)

Analysis finds ‘continued and sustained disinformation activity.’

Russian groups carried out a widespread disinformation campaign aimed at influencing the European Parliament election, according to an analysis by the European Commission and the European Union’s diplomatic service.

These digital tactics were aimed at undermining the EU’s democratic legitimacy and used hot-button topics to sow public anger, based on evidence collected by Brussels-based institutions in a report released today.

“The evidence collected revealed a continued and sustained disinformation activity by Russian sources aiming to suppress turnout and influence voter preferences,” the analysis said. “These covered a broad range of topics, ranging from challenging the Union’s democratic legitimacy to exploiting divisive public debates on issues such as of migration and sovereignty.”

The attribution to “Russian sources” is exceptional, as the EU is generally cautious to point fingers at foreign countries when commenting publicly on cybersecurity attacks.

But lately the Kremlin has come under increased attention for attempted digital assaults on international institutions in The Hague late last year, and suspicion has grown among Western officials that Russia was behind a hack that targeted the EU’s diplomatic mission in Moscow — an incident that became public last week.

“The disinformation campaigns were smart and subtle to focus on issues that mattered to the target audiences” — Chloe Colliver, Institute of Strategic Dialogue

As part of widespread “fake news” around the election, domestic political groups and politicians also borrowed heavily from tactics initially used by Russia-backed groups, including efforts to sway discussion on social media, the report said. The goal, according to the EU analysis, was to promote extreme views and polarize national political debates ahead of last month’s vote.

The analysis said it was too soon to conclude whether the online campaigns had influenced turnout or voters’ choice of party.

“Given the increasingly sophisticated nature of disinformation activities, and the difficulties of independent researchers to access relevant data from the platforms, a conclusive assessment of the scope and impact of disinformation campaigns will take time and require a concerted effort by civil society, academia, public actors and online platforms,” the report said.

The report matches similar research by other disinformation experts that saw domestic and Russian-backed groups borrow heavily from each other — both in terms of tactics and digital content — in their efforts to sway last month’s vote.

Because disinformation groups now interchange ideas and strategies, often without direct coordination, it is almost impossible to link their online campaigns to one sole actor, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint from where these tactics originate.

Some officials in Brussels are growing frustrated that the likes of Facebook and Twitter are not doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation and extremist content

“The disinformation campaigns were smart and subtle to focus on issues that mattered to the target audiences,” said Chloe Colliver, who heads the digital research unit at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank that focuses on extreme speech, who was not involved in the EU report. “They are effective enough so that it’s impossible to attribute where the tactics came from.”

The EU’s analysis of disinformation during the recent electoral campaign follows concerted efforts by the Commission and some European countries to clamp down on how such messaging is spread and shared online. That includes a voluntary code for digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube to combat the worst offenders, as well as coordination between officials from EU members states to share how best to address these problems.

While the U.S. tech companies continue to meet the Commission’s non-binding standards in terms of tackling fake news, many outside experts and some officials in Brussels are growing frustrated that the likes of Facebook and Twitter are not doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation and extremist content. They say that these companies do not share enough data with outside experts, and that their existing efforts do not go far enough to thwart disinformation campaigns online.

In response, the companies say that they have taken down millions of fake accounts and thwarted hundreds of disinformation campaigns in recent months. Facebook also set up an EU election “war room” in its European headquarters in Dublin to coordinate its response.

Time, though, may be running out.

As part of its analysis, the Commission said that it would review the voluntary code of practice for platforms at the end of the year to assess if it had had an impact on how false narratives were circulated online.

“Should the results of this assessment not be satisfactory, the Commission may propose further initiatives, including of a regulatory nature,” according to the report.

(EUobserver) EU to discuss cyber attack on Moscow embassy

(EUobserver)

EU ambassadors in Brussels on Tuesday are to discuss a cyber attack on the bloc’s embassy in Moscow in February, following a report by US news website Buzzfeed, which said the EU external action service knew about it, but did not tell fellow European institutions. “We have observed potential signs of compromised systems connected to our unclassified network,” an EU spokesperson told Buzzfeed, amid suspicion Russia was behind the hack.

(EUobserver) Macron would ‘support’ Merkel for EU top job

(EUobserver)

French president Emmanuel Macron has told Swiss broadcaster RTS that he would endorse German chancellor Angela Merkel to be the next European Commission president if she wanted the post. The EU “needs someone strong” at the top, he said Tuesday. “If she were to want it, I would support her,” he added. Merkel herself has said she does not want to come to Brussels and will quit politics in 2021.

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