The Hungarian government has been condemned by a European Parliament committee over the illegal use of the Israeli Pegasus spyware and the planned Budapest campus of the Chinese Fudan University, MEPs of the Special Committee for foreign interference in all democratic processes in the EU, including disinformation (INGE), decided on Tuesday. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the document during its plenary session in March.
The document includes several strong statements regarding Hungary, including: “the country, together with Serbia, is helping China and Russia with their geopolitical objectives and spreading disinformation in the region.”
The report was presented by Sandra Kalniete, a Latvian MEP of the European People’s Party, according to leftist daily Népszava.
The draft report names politicians, countries, and organizations they believe are complicit in facilitating external interference aimed at undermining European democracy. In addition to Hungary, governing party Fidesz and opposition Jobbik are also mentioned as also reportedly having close contact with the Kremlin.
The report condemns the Hungarian, Polish, and other state bodies for illicit use on a massive scale of the Pegasus spyware against journalists, human rights activists and politicians. The document calls on the EU and the Member States to control the export of such surveillance programs to Member States with a “clear rule of law problem.” (Although the Orbán government never officially admitted the purchase and use of the spyware, some of the comments made by governing party politicians and investigative articles make the purchase seem almost certain).
The document also condemns the decision made by the Orbán government to open a Fudan University branch while, at the same time, closing the Central European University in Budapest.
It also expresses concern about the growing dependence of European universities on China and other foreign states, “as there is a risk that sensitive data, technologies and research results could flow to foreign states,” and that this dependence could limit academic freedom. It is therefore important that geopolitically relevant research in higher education institutions is supported by European funding, and that foreign funding is transparent.
According to the text, the EU needs deterrents and an effective system of sanctions to ensure that the actions of foreign hostile actors do not go unpunished. In addition, the document makes several suggestions about how to regulate online platforms that also spread false information, how to help Europeans consume media more consciously, and how to counter malicious foreign interference.
Momentum MEP: Inquiry committee should hold PM Orbán accountable
“The problem we perceive everyday in the public life of Hungary has been brought to the European level with this newly adopted report,” INGE committee member and MEP of the opposition liberal Momentum party and Anna Donáth reacted on social media.
Donáth says that China and Russia have launched disinformation campaigns through the Hungarian government to “destabilize our region,” and the planned campus of Fudan University will be “another tool in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
The politician thinks the Pegasus scandal should also be investigated to find out “exactly who and why they spied on the private lives of journalists, opposition politicians, state secretaries, and lawyers.”
Several MEPs from her group, the liberal Renew Europe, are urging the European Parliament to set up a Pegasus inquiry committee to hear and even to hold Viktor Orbán accountable over the case.
“Two governments have used terrorist cyber weapons against their own citizens. This is unacceptable,” she emphasized.
Featured photo illustration via the European Parliament’s official Twitter page