EU Parliament condemns Russian interference, praises investigative journalism

Szabolcs Panyi (VSquare) 2024-04-26
Szabolcs Panyi (VSquare) 2024-04-26

On April 25, 2024, the European Parliament, backed by all five major political groups, adopted a resolution that condemned Russian interference in Europe and emphasized the critical role of investigative journalism. Additionally, the resolution mentioned a recent story by VSquare regarding Slovakian politician Peter Pellegrini’s request for Kremlin support, facilitated by Viktor Orbán.

Following several recent revelations of Kremlin-backed attempts to interfere with and undermine European democratic processes, MEPs adopted on Thursday a resolution firmly denouncing such efforts, according to the EP’s press release. It was adopted by 429 votes in favor, 27 against with 48 abstentions. The EP calls on the political leadership in the EU and member states to counter Russian interference attempts urgently and vigorously.

Any such tactics, they say, must have consequences. Parliament is appalled by credible allegations that some MEPs were paid to disseminate Russian propaganda and that several participated in the activities of pro-Russian media outlet “Voice of Europe”, at the same time as Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.

MEPs want EU and member state leaders to deal with Russian interference efforts, not just in the EU institutions but across the Union. There is, they argue, a sense of urgency and resolve to this given the approaching European elections on 6-9 June 2024.

Among others, the resolution refers to VSquare’s recent investigation regarding the former Slovak leader’s request for Kremlin assistance during the 2020 Slovak parliamentary elections.

“There is credible evidence that, in 2020, Peter Pelligrini, then Prime Minister of Slovakia, requested the help of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to obtain support from the Kremlin ahead of Slovakia’s 2020 parliamentary election; whereas this resulted in a visit by Prime Minister Pelligrini to Russia in February 2020, three days before the elections were held,” the EP’s newly adopted resolution writes.

VSquare’s investigation revealed that, back in 2020, Slovakia’s then-Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini asked Viktor Orbán to act as a middleman between him and the Kremlin. Pellegrini aimed for an invitation to Moscow just before Slovakia’s parliamentary election – hoping that it would appeal to the Slovak electorate. Pellegrini eventually got his visit to Russia and still lost the election. However, a few weeks ago, he was elected as Slovakia’s new president. The story was also published by the Investigative Center of Ján Kuciak in Slovakia and Telex.hu in Hungary.

“The key role of investigative journalism”

MEPs say that while Russia remains the main origin of foreign interference and disinformation in the EU, other countries are also active. They underline that the EU’s response to these threats can only be effective if it is based on a cross-cutting, holistic and long-term policy approach jointly carried by both the EU and member states.

To beef up Parliament’s own defenses, the resolution suggests enhancing its internal security culture, including thorough internal investigations to assess possible cases of foreign interference and the full enforcement of its internal sanctions framework. MEPs also want mandatory security training for MEPs and staffers, appropriate security clearance, and reinforced staff screening.

The resolution calls on the European Council to include Kremlin-backed media outlets, other broadcasting and media organizations, and individuals responsible for propaganda and disinformation campaigns in the EU in the forthcoming 14th Russian sanctions package. 

The EP also praises investigative journalists’ work in uncovering Russian meddling in Europe. The resolution “underlines the key role of investigative journalism in revealing the attempts at foreign interference and covert activities; reiterates its call for the EU institutions and the Member States to ensure sufficient and sustainable funding for investigative journalism.”

The adopted final text will be available here, while the draft proposal is accessible here.

Cover photo: Tverdokhlib / Shutterstock

Subscribe to “Goulash”, our newsletter with original scoops and the best investigative journalism from Central Europe, written by Szabolcs Panyi. Get it in your inbox every second Thursday!

By filling in the data and subscribing to the Newsletter, you consent to the sending of the “Goulash Newsletter” to the e-mail address provided. The data provided in the form will not be used for any other purpose.

Szabolcs Panyi

VSquare’s Budapest-based lead investigative editor in charge of Central European investigations, Szabolcs Panyi is also a Hungarian investigative journalist at Direkt36. He covers national security, foreign policy, and Russian and Chinese influence. He was a European Press Prize finalist in 2018 and 2021.