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Italian MEPs – among the most pro-Russian in EU

The president of the Russian federation, Vladimir Putin (left),with the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte [personal archive]

Italy doesn’t want to upset Russia and its tsar, Vladimir Putin. While the European Parliament works to try to tackle the issue of propaganda and misleading information, the Italian MEPs push in the opposite direction, aiming to safeguard the good relations with Moscow and his regime. Doing so, the Italian members of the Parliament belonging to The League and the Five Stars Movement (M5S) show their anti-European nature.

The last European Parliament plenary session adopted a resolution containing anti-Russian provisions. As the document reads, there is the need “to raise awareness about Russia’s disinformation campaigns, as this constitutes the main source of disinformation in Europe”. Such a need is more than ever felt now, with the European elections around the corner. Wrong messages could influence the voting intentions across the EU territory.

Italian anti-system MEPs voted against Europe

The resolution was adopted by 489 against 148 with 30 abstentions. Among the MEPs who rejected the text were those from The League and M5S. This is not a surprise. So far the Italian government is one of the more pro-Russian of the entire EU. Although the Italian administration agreed to renew sanctions against the Russian Federation, it is has been working in order to normalize the relations with the euro-Asian country.

Last June, during the G7 meeting in Canada, the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte called for readmitting Putin into the club of the so-called “great countries”, and return to what was the G8 before the crisis in Ukraine. The big seven reacted to the invasion of Crimea by expelling the Russian Federation, in 2014.

The fact that a part of the Italian MEPs voted against the anti-Russia policy of the EU isn’t something new. It should be remembered that Italy has a long-lasting tradition of friendship with Russia. The Italian multinational oil and gas company ENI is in business with the energy companies of Russia, and the relation has been considered as strategic by Italy long before the current government took over.

European Parliament’s internal struggle

The resolution called for social media companies, messenger services and search engine providers to be regulated by law. Companies failing to speedily remove systemic fake news should be held to account. Furthermore, authorities should be able to identify and locate authors and sponsors of submitted political content.

All these provisions met the harsh opposition of M5S, never in favor of setting controls or limiting the internet. “The approval of the report on EU counter-propaganda from third parties is very far from a real protection of citizens from the spread of disinformation”, said Fabio Massimo Castaldo, vice-president of the European Parliament and prominent figure of the Movement. According to him, his colleagues adopted “indirect forms of censorship to the freedoms of citizens”.

Such a reading was disregarded by the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, whose idea is exactly the opposite. The EU wants to safeguard citizens. As explained, “voter participation is the lifeblood of democracy”. But in order to express their right to vote, “citizens must have complete and accurate information”. And here comes the problem. “Fake news can affect their right to actively participate in the electoral process. As politicians our duty is to guarantee the freedom of choice of citizens”.

The Italian political division thus took place at maximum European level, with the president of the EU institution against one of the vice-presidents.

Russia is a threat

The Italians MEPs who voted in favor of Putin and against the EU didn’t accept that Russia is indeed a threat. According to the latest repot by ENISA, the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security, China, Brazil and Russia, are responsible respectively for 7.1%, 6.2% and 4.4% of the major cyberattack in the first half of 2018. Furthermore, China, Russia, and Iran stand out as the most capable and active cyber actors tied to economic espionage. So, social network are not hacker-proof, and fake news can be produced by the ‘ministry for Truth” of Russia.

“No one is as deaf as the one who doesn’t want to hear”, a popular Italian proverb says. “When the wise man points at the moon, the fool looks at his finger”, is another traditional wisdom. Well, Fabio Massimo Castaldo appeared not to pay attention to the real topic of the debate. In front of hostile propaganda from third countries, he criticized the national media systems.

“We fear that the so-called support for the independent press could turn into an interference to apply censorship against uncomfortable news for the mainstream: how can a ‘financed’ journalist be objective and independent in their work,” he questioned.

Which of the two proverbs better serves to depict Castaldo, we question.

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