The European Commission, “out of concern” for democracy, has reached for tools reserved for the world’s most oppressive regimes. The set of regulations known as the “Democracy Defense Package, which includes an initiative to protect the EU’s democratic sphere from hidden foreign influence,” included a provision requiring NGOs to register money received from countries outside the European Union.
The Warsaw Enterprise Institute is calling for the immediate withdrawal of the proposed regulations. Proclaiming concern about the state of democracy, the EC advocates provisions that strike at the institutions on which a democratic civil state is based. The European Commission officials say they are acting in response to citizens’ concerns about the infiltration of foreign states manipulating elections. The solution requires monitoring all funds and financial transfers from third countries to European social and non-governmental organizations. The Commission wants to put the matter on an emergency track to have the legislation in time for the June European Parliament elections.
Without denying that officials are right about the threat itself and possible attempts by Chinese or Russian agents and hackers to influence European elections, we point out that the proposed solution will only worsen the state of democracy in Europe.
First of all, we do not understand why all non-EU countries are considered as “suspicious agents.” Any foundation or association will be subject to monitoring, regardless of whether it has received funds from Russia and China or democratic countries like the UK or the US. For incomprehensible reasons, the EC arbitrarily decides that cases of financing election campaigns or the activities of “independent” think tanks by, for example, the German government, do not require monitoring, while grants from an Australian foundation must be checked as suspicious.
The proposed “defense of democracy” legislation is painfully reminiscent of provisions that the autocratic government in Georgia tried to introduce in March of this year. Tens of thousands of Tbilisi residents took to the streets in protest, and the European Commission, and rightly so, supported the protesters at the time, claiming that the provisions threatened the democratic process. Provisions introduced at one time by the Putin regime were met with similar criticism from the entire democratic world. As a reminder, based on equal conditions, the Moscow regime has closed dozens of independent foundations, research institutions, and think tanks in Russia.
The Warsaw Enterprise Institute states that public benefit organizations must be fully transparent about their finances. If, for some reason, politicians and their services find the regulations inadequate, the principle of equal treatment should be preserved. This can be done by mandating full transparency of the accounts and showing all transfers, regardless of the country of origin.
Consider the possibility of broadening the obligation to make declarations to include a statement that the organization has not raised funds from countries Brussels considers totalitarian. However, we see no reason for foundations and organizations from other democratic countries to be included on this blocklist because their headquarters are in Washington rather than Paris.
We understand that many European governments are watching with concern the changing public mood and subsequent elections in European countries where conservative circles are winning instead of liberals. Most recently in the Netherlands, but there are obviously more examples. The effects of the proposed provisions, however, will be exactly the opposite. They will only strengthen anti-EU sentiment and will tip the June elections all the more in the favor of totalitarian states.