Disinformation and Covid-19 : An attack on the European rule of law

8/1/2020

by Elise Bernard and Raphaël Cario

On April 24, 2020, the New York Times published an article which triggered many institutional reactions, particularly within the European Commission: "Pressured by China, EU softens report on Covid-19 disinformation” [1]. It presents the pressure exerted by Beijing to limit criticism by European actors of its disinformation policy during the pandemic. These pressures are part of a more general context of attack against the European rule of law by the new illiberal powers. Whether internal or external to the Union, explicit or implicit, these attacks undermine the European project of protection of fundamental liberties. The policies of disinformation that have emerged during the pandemic are a flagrant example of the reality of these attacks, their purpose and the limited response of European actors.

Since 2015 and Federica Mogherini, therefore since the predecessor of Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU has been saying that it fights against disinformation. A specific service was created following the European Council of March 2015 [2]: the governments of the Member States agreed to establish the so-called StratCom Task Force to "respond to the disinformation campaigns currently being conducted by Russia". The task force's mission, together with the other relevant Commission services, is to improve the EU's response to anticipate and respond to pro-Kremlin disinformation activities and to raise public awareness. The context of the creation of a disinformation task force is the ambition of the European Commission to become a “geopolitical Commission”. It aims to respond to pressure from state actors outside the Union. Unfortunately, based on this Times’ article, we realise that this mission is far from having been fulfilled.