The European Union has started work on its own law on “foreign agents”
The European Union is preparing a law that would oblige NGOs, consulting firms and scientific institutions to disclose funding from outside the bloc. This is done as part of a fight against foreign influence in the EU, according to three Politico sources.
The initiative is at a very early stage of development and resembles similar legislation in Australia and the US. For example, in the United States, since 1938, the Foreign Agents Registration Act requires lobbyists acting on behalf of foreign governments to register with the federal government. The European version of the law is unlikely to target individuals, but will require organizations across the EU to disclose non-EU funding.
In recent years, Europe has faced a range of foreign influence operations, from Russian data leak campaigns to alter election results, to Chinese subsidies to universities to shape human rights rhetoric, to the European Parliament corruption scandal known as Qatargate. Then the investigation was stopped by the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili. She, along with other officials, lobbied for Qatari interests on the eve of the World Cup, the investigation is certain.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced actions to “defend democracy” during her annual speech to the European Parliament last September. At the same time, work began on the Law on Foreign Influence, headed by the vice-chairman of the Justice Committee, Vera Yourova.
Critics say the timing of the bill’s drafting was bad as protests erupted in Georgia against such a law that would force organizations to register as “agents of foreign influence” if more than 20% of their funding came from abroad. The law, widely seen as an attempt to tighten government control in the spirit of Russian norms, was withdrawn after mass protests last week.
“Of course, this is a sensitive issue,” a commission spokesman said. “We’re still in the early stages of gathering input from a wide range of stakeholders to ensure we’re taking the right approach.” Vera Yourova is planning a meeting with representatives of NGOs that are seriously concerned about the plans to prepare a draft law. Some of them have already received questionnaires asking them to specify their funding sources outside the EU. In particular, Transparency International received such a questionnaire.