Senatory Poll
Pier Goodmann

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    How is the EU preparing for the 2024 EU Parliament Elections? The Defence of Democracy Package and beyond.


    By Dr Anna Longhini, Babes-Bolyai University, postdoctoral fellow DIGIEFFECT project

    19 Februarie 2024

    In view of the next 2024 EU Elections, in December 2023 the EU Commission issued the Defence of Democracy Package. Its aim: ensuring greater transparency of foreign interest representation and regulating the participation of citizens and civil society organisations to policy-making. The Package is the result of the collaborative work between the Commission, including its previous 2020 initiative, “The European Democracy Action Plan”, and the European Parliament special committee on foreign interference and disinformation. Originally set up in 2020, its work is focused on protecting the European electoral process from hostile foreign interference, disinformation, hybrid threats, and cyberattacks.


    The EU attention to counter external threats to its democratic space dates back to 2016 when the “Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats” was issued and the “EU Hybrid Fusion Cell” within the European External Action Services was established, as to provide risk assessment of hybrid threats to the EU and its Member States. The addressees of this soft law were state and non-state actor together with internet and social media companies. While other countries, like China, are considered a threat in terms of foreign interference to EU elections, only one country is explicitly mentioned in the 2016 and in the 2023 Package: Russia.


    The Package is not the first type regulation issued to protect the European digital electoral space. Our DIGIEFFECT data visual presents the EU regulatory framework on digital political campaigning from 2016 to 2023 consisting of 14 EU laws. In particular, by tracing both hard and soft legislation together with ongoing legislative proposals having a direct or indirect reference to digital political campaigning, we identified 3 hard laws, 7 soft laws and 4 legislative proposals (3 of which will become regulations and 1 a directive once becoming definitive). Also, we found 12 direct references and 2 indirect references to digital political campaigning. Keyworks used to determine whether reference was direct or not were components and effects of digital political campaigning, such as: political, campaigns, political advertising, disinformation campaigns, political orientation, political opinion, political parties.


    What emerges from the framework is that the regulation of digital political campaigning is gradually finding a central place within the broader EU agenda tackling a vast range of issue which is not limited to third parties’ technological threats, but also deals with data processing and sharing, as well as online disinformation, advertising, artificial intelligence. Will all this legislative work be able to protect EU citizens from the negative effects of technological advancements? In other words, will these laws be effective in protecting their final addressee? While there is already research evidence that soft laws can work when reporting is less rigid (Borz et al. 2024), it is early to say which impact the hard laws will have in the coming years, but what we observed is that, in the timeframe ranging from 2016 to 2023, an increasing reactive mode of policy-making from EU regulators emerges, with the EU intervening to regulate technological advancements and threats as they occur.