It feels like every day there is a new story about Russia meddling in other countries' affairs. Be it the constant news out of the USA, and now reports that their propaganda machine is looking to influence elections throughout Europe, namely France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
There is, by now, plenty of evidence that Russia is engaged in propaganda activities in the West and that it is doing so with a variety of tools. It is of course difficult to determine to what extent the Russian propaganda machine can influence elections in Europe. Kremlin-sponsored media outlets such as Sputnik and Russia Today (since recently broadcasting in German and French as well) are part of a propaganda toolkit that includes also the use of so-called troll armies, PR companies and Russian state-sponsored NGOs which operate in Europe. These channels spread fake news or present facts in a biased way that can favour anti-systemic parties.
Sometimes fake news is meant to give people a skewed perception about the size or urgency of certain issues, in a way that can favour the agenda of one party or another.
Other times, propaganda actions are not meant to persuade people about one position or another or to build the credibility of Russia, but to spread confusion via the diffusion of conspiracy theories, to mix what is true and what is fake in a way that people cannot tell the truth anymore. This helps undermine people’s trust in the mainstream political parties and the state institutions, benefitting the agenda of anti-systemic parties – such as Le Pen’s National Front or Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom. Russia has an interest in these parties winning elections as the goals of their anti-systemic, Eurosceptic agenda are in line with those of Moscow for whom a weak EU is a good EU.
Dutch Labour's fall from grace is a result of the fact that they abandoned their ideology and became too managerial, in the same way the European centre left is slowly being eroded, really since Tony Blair's downfall and along with the bankruptcies of the welfare states they wrongly claimed to be sustainable.
Wilders did indeed come second and still did proceed, but much less than the polls indicated for the last 2 years, mainly as a result of the mainstream taking over some of his euroscepticism and criticism towards unrestricted migration. This was a good response, largely, given that there are some real issues that needed to be addressed, as for example problematic integration leading to terrorist attacks and the refugee chaos during 2015-2016. There are liberal solutions as an alternative to the far right recipes of Wilders.
Wilders has softened his tone since the elections but I suspect he has separated himself too much now from the mainstream so maybe a new party can fill this gap.
Before we look ahead at the current landscape, may I attempt to put a bow on the events that transpired leading up to the March 15 elections.
There was a lot of concern mounting as Geert Wilders held a lead in polls for most of the year leading up to the elections.
As we learned observing the US elections, the polls don't always tell the full story, but is there a reason we can assess where the sampling went wrong in this instance?
And is there a specific point in the campaign where we can identify when the margins narrowed?
There is a lot of enthusiasm for sure, but there is also a strong sense that the time has come to raise a new paradigm. The March for Europe will be a celebration of Europe but will also represent a call for action (demand) by the European citizens. Things are simply not moving, as they should.
This is a European Union imprisoned by the absence of a tangible strategy and the lack of proactivity. Let's not even mention the worst problem of all, the rule of unanimity.
The current trade agreements, including CETA, are designed to benefit multinational corporations rather than people and the environment and therefore we oppose them. It is not true that those opposing, including my organisation FoE Europe, are against international trade as such, but we believe it needs to be managed in a way that it benefits people and the planet.
CETA is not about rejecting Canada or its government.
It’s about rejecting an agreement that was negotiated with the ultra-conservative Harper government to the benefit of large corporations. Trade unions and civil society organisations in Canada also call for CETA to be rejected: This is not about Canada vs Europe, but about an agreement that would benefit multinational corporations and harm citizens and the environment on both sides of the Atlantic.
International cooperation is absolutely essential to solving many of today’s pressing issues, whether it is climate change, tax evasion, the protection of biodiversity or holding multinational corporations accountable for their conduct. We support and engage with efforts of tackling these issues at the international level. We would be glad to support European-Canadian cooperation to further environmental and social causes.
Thank you for the invitation to this debate on an important matter that touches upon different spheres like climate and development policy.
As Victoria said, the year 2015 was decisive for a higher global equality in living conditions and environmental justice since both the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate action were adopted. This shows both the responsibility
and willingness of the global community to act on existing problems like lacking access to clean energy. The next step especially for the richer countries is now to stand by their word and implement the generic targets on the ground. The EU for example needs
to integrate the SDGs and the Paris commitments into its climate and energy legislation. But more importantly, the developed countries need to fulfill their obligation for funding to build infrastructure in developing countries, like Victoria mentioned.
It is true that there are problems with the administration and distribution of funds, but new initiatives are often addressing these already. For example, during the UN climate conference in Marrakesh 40 developed and developing countries as well as organizations launched a global
partnership that will tie countries closer together on the implementation of national climate plans and support developing countries in financial and technological terms. A secretariat is also put up for the partnership that shall help with the planning processes of clean energy projects.
I agree that relying on biomass will lock in further environmental problems in those regions. It is important that there is a diversity of energy sources. The solar power plant Ouarzazate in Morocco for example received support from EU and member states like Germany and has been the largest plant of this kind for some time.