By Brendan Nicholson

Published 21 September 2022

Many in Europe did not take the foreign interference threat seriously until Russia launched its war against Ukraine on 24 February, even though European nations were already subjected to a form of hybrid warfare from Russia with cyberattacks on hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic, attacks on public institutions, attempts to corrupt leaders and financing of political parties. China’s emerging interference campaign emulates Russia’s. Their goal is :to ensure the democracies no longer functioned and gave way to authoritarian regimes,” says a European expert.

Members of a European Parliament committee examining foreign interference and economic coercion are urging the creation by the world’s democracies of a permanent system to share anti-coercion practices and information on threats.

Australia would be a key part of such a network, Raphael Glucksmann, a French member of the EU Parliament, told The Strategist.

The delegation, tasked with identifying and measuring the threat Europe is facing and mapping out a response to it, was in Canberra yesterday for talks with ministers and government officials and a roundtable discussion with ASPI.

Glucksmann said the group was going to like-minded democracies confronted with the same kind of threats and seeing how they handled them. ‘Australia is at the forefront of this fight against foreign interference, so we came here to study your legislation, your practices, to understand how you are fighting foreign interference,’ he said.

That included ways to screen foreign investment in strategic infrastructure, dealing with disinformation and examining how universities are targeted.

Ideas from Australia would be used to strengthen a European model.

To this end, Australia had developed not just legislation, but a practice, Glucksmann said. ‘It’s very useful for us, is this coordination. It’s the fact that it’s a whole-of-government approach, and also to a certain extent a whole-of-society approach. And this is key for us. We don’t have the same institutions in Europe, and I think that’s something we should bring back to our countries and to the Europe Union in general.’

The delegation has briefed Australian representatives on measures already taken in Europe such as rules for screening foreign direct investment and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation system and Digital Markets Act.

For Europe, the main actor in foreign interference was Russia, while for Australia it was China, Glucksmann said.

‘We also have Chinese interference in Europe. Even if they don’t have the same strategy exactly, and the same methods, both are authoritarian regimes, aiming at undermining liberal democracies, so the fight is common.’

Both were practicing state capture, or the ‘buying’ of former ministers and politicians and top bureaucrats through their purportedly private companies which were, in fact, part of the state system.

‘For Russia, the aim is clearly to polarize and destabilize European democracy,’ Glucksmann said. In Spain, for instance, that was attempted by Russia supporting opposite ends of the political spectrum, those seeking independence for Catalonia and nationalists in the Vox party.