Publisher of Albanian Free Press, part of Independent Balkan News Agency LTD Media Group
The countdown for the most crucial European elections in the history of the EU, in May 2019, has already begun and political formations are making their visions clear for the future of the European Union.
The main issue of these European Parliament elections has “existential” characteristics, as in recent years the EU has lost much of its contact with its founding values. Freedom, democracy and solidarity have given way to restricting freedom and the rights of the people, manipulating democracy and introversion mirrored in a return to national and nationalist policies.
The rise of populism and nationalist movements in the EU has been meteoric and in many cases it has led to key, founding principles of the Union being disregarded.
EU policies based on numbers and balanced budgets have failed. Citizens were sometimes used to show that numbers are prospering – albeit while citizens saw their lives being crushed.
In this context, the Social Democratic and Left-wing forces are upping their efforts to cooperate in a progressive direction so as to be able to compete with the conservative forces and the European People's Party, which has been dominant within the European Parliament in recent years.
While EU political formations continue their quests to secure power to change the policies of the Union, it is impressive how some political leaders have publicly spoken of the risk of exogenous factors affecting the elections.
A typical example is the "manifesto" published by French President Emmanuel Macron in all the newspapers of the 28 EU countries, where he states: "The European model is based on the freedom of the individual, the diversity of opinions, creativity. The first freedom, guaranteed by the institution of democracy, is the free choice of the governors whenever a foreign force tries to influence our vote. I propose the creation of a European Agency for the Protection of our Republics that will provide member-states with European experts to protect electoral processes from cyber-attacks and behavioral manipulation. Within this spirit of independence, we must also ban the funding of European political parties by foreign powers. We need to free the internet, via European rules, from all rhetoric of hatred and violence, because respect for the individual is also the basis of the culture of dignity we stand for."
Similarly, Donald Tusk sounded the alarm over cyber-attacks and an attempt to manipulate the European elections through the spread of fake news and boosting far-right anti-European rhetoric.
Not too long ago there were allegations in the US of attempted manipulation of elections in the country. The attempts made to manipulate public opinion in northern Macedonia and turn it against the Prespes Agreement are also no secret. Within less than ten days, more than 1,000 sites were created in Northern Macedonia against the deal, according to the country's media. This is no coincidence at a time when the internet and the uncontrolled spread of fake news shapes citizen’s choices in terms of who they elect as leaders.
Yes, Europe is at risk. Yes, the world as we knew it is at risk due to the manipulation of public opinion via the use of modern technology and invisible manipulators. Yes, it is our duty to put an end to this risk and raise awareness about the value of democracy and freedom, which we ought to hand over to future generations.