Sant, ever the sceptic on MEPs’ crusades, abstains on Russian disinformation resolution

MEPs vote for European strategy to counter ‘highly dangerous’ Russian propaganda but Sant abstains: ‘Even MEP resolutions on internal affairs of countries are interventions’

Labour MEP Alfred Sant
Labour MEP Alfred Sant

Labour MEP Alfred Sant has abstained on a European Parliament vote for stronger EU measures aimed at countering “highly dangerous” Russian disinformation, in a resolution co-sponsored by Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola.

The resolution called for an upgrade of the EU’s anti-propaganda unit East StratCom, as well as support for public service media, passing comfortably with the support of the largest political groups in the European parliament – the centre-right European People’s party, Socialists, Liberals and Greens.

East StratCom was set up in 2015 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea forced a rethink of relations with the Kremlin in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.

The resolution is non-binding, but calls on the incoming leaders of the European Commission and European Council to focus on “the highly dangerous nature of Russian propaganda” and to set a strategy to counter Russian disinformation.

But Sant told the plenary that while he agreed that foreign interference in elections was a very serious issue that had to be monitored and controlled, he took a more nuanced position on the resolution.

“It has long been practised under different forms, from the setting up of policy institutes in the smaller countries by the parties of large European states, to  campaigns waged in foreign media against individual countries, to the escalation that has happened in recent years towards the fraudulent manipulation of soft media on a global scale,” Sant said.

Sant has been a critic of the way the Labour administration has been portrayed in international media and by MEPs over the last five years, often saying that European scandals have gone unnoticed by MEPs and Commission officials.

 “So, this Parliament’s resolutions over the years, on the internal affairs of outside countries could be considered an intervention in their electoral politics,” Sant added. “Likewise, arguably, the creation of transnational lists for elections to this Parliament. What makes foreign interventions of any kind acceptable? Legitimate? Legal?”

Sant said Malta has “long been subject to such interventions, from right and left.”

“And I know that we would be indulging in another fruitless exercise where we proclaim how pure we are, and how defiled others can be – unless we have clear replies to questions of the acceptable, legitimate, legal sort. Even if well-intentioned, the resolution makes no attempt to identify such replies. Therefore, I cannot support it.”

Among the MEPs who voted against the resolution were Nigel Farage and the Brexit party. All Nationalist and Labour MEPs voted in favour.

The resolution, which passed by 469 votes to 143, with 47 abstentions, revealed the bitter division among Britain’s MEPs.