Sant abstains on MEPs’ foreign intereference report that calls for TikTok ban

Labour MEP Alfred Sant warns of Eurocentric emphasis in European Parliament Report on foreign interference

Labour MEP Alfred Sant has abstained on a European Parliament report on foreign interference, after expressing reservations with the proposed EU approach.

The report was adopted with 469 votes in favour, 71 against and 75 abstentions.

The former prime minister claimed that foreign interference in the internal affairs of nations did not start yesterday as the resolution implies, but has been done “legally” and “illegally” since a long time ago.

Alfred Sant said there were many ways by which interference in democratic processes can be run from outside. “I agree that outside interference in the internal affairs of nation states and the Union should be monitored and rolled back… some are clearly indefensible. Others are at the margin of being between ambiguous and less than transparent.”

The report adopted by MEPs also proposes a ban on social media app TikTok at all government and EU levels due to fears of Chinese misinformation.

But Sant said the latter strategy currently was itself being applied by the EU and member states quite openly. “In the past, a Maltese Labour Party government argued against foreign interference in national politics and legislated against it. For this, it was ostracized.”

Foreign interference in the EU is understood to mean any illegitimate interference by foreign powers in the democratic and political processes of the Union and member states. On 10 March 2022, the European Parliament established a new Special Committee on foreign interference in all democratic processes in the European Union, including disinformation (ING2). This committee was given the task to identify ‘the appropriate legal basis for any necessary legal acts’ and preparing the ground for permanent European institutional solutions to address foreign malicious interference and disinformation.

Sant stressed that the EU’s attempts in drawing the report lacked historical balance and carried a Eurocentric emphasis. “This rings false in third countries which have been and are still being subjected to Western meddling in their internal affairs, he stressed.”

The report calls for a coordinated strategy to increase the EU’s resilience to foreign interference and protect the 2024 European elections. MEPs highlighted interference on online platforms, protection of critical infrastructure and strategic sectors, interference during electoral processes, covert funding of political activities by foreign actors and resilience to cyberattacks.

They also condemned the dangerous phenomenon of disinformation-for-hire, whereby providers offer disinformation services to government and non-government actors, for example over the dark web, to attack electoral processes.

MEPs also recommended banning TikTok at all levels of national government and in the EU institutions and call on the Council and the Commission to exclude the use of equipment and software from manufacturers from high-risk countries, particularly China and Russia, such as ByteDance Huawei, ZTE, Kaspersky, NtechLab or Nuctech.

The report follows up on the implementation of the Resolution on foreign interference adopted in March 2022.