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  • Salomé Bonneyrat

Ensuring Democracy: The European Election Under Vigilant Observation

Political scientists and academics eagerly await for the next European election scheduled for June this year, as it serves as a pivotal moment for them to formulate the future regarding the state of democracy in Europe. However, those elections are already a dreaded moment for most of the Brussel employees who work on making sure that each step runs smoothly. Not to make the context of those elections seem like the scenario of an apocalyptic end-of-the-world thriller, but this time the 2024 elections are more than ever under vigilant observation by the EU's cyber team.  


Indeed, France has been hit on several occasions since the beginning of the year by massive cyberattacks. In February, the hospital of Armentieres, located in the north of France was the victim of a cyberattack during which the emergency services had to be closed for a full day. Patients were redirected  to other hospitals in the region, while a crisis unit was opened to reestablish the connection with the server of the hospital.  

More recently, more than 2,000 governmental websites have been targeted in France, including the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture and treasury. Rapidly after the attack the Prime minister, Gabriel Attal talked about a cyberattack of “unprecedented intensity”. Diverse groups have claimed responsibility for the assault. Among them a group calling itself Anonymous Sudan took the burden of the attack. Anonymous Sudan was known in the past as a Sudanese based group targeting “anti-Muslim activity”. However, today some analysts believe the group originates from or is partly supported by Russia.  

In no instance, this means the recent attack on the French government’s institution was fomented by Russia directly. The last investigation on the subject found no proof that the  Kremlin was directly in charge of those cyberattacks.   


The Russian menace: 

If no proof has been found on the French case, last December Politico reported that the EU’s cybersecurity team CERT-EU stated that at least seven European countries had been targeted by a campaign to gain access to internal networks, carried out by the Russian intelligence service’s hacking organization Fancy Bear.  

Last year, the European parliament’s website suffered a sophisticated assault that temporarily disrupted its services, shortly after EU members resolved to declare Russia a state that sponsors terrorism. Fancy Bear was the not so unfamous Russian cyberattack group that in 2016 influenced the race of the White House, after the US Democratic National Committee got attacked by this group. 

 

The atypical vulnerability of the European institutions: 

But what makes the European Union and its institutions so vulnerable compared to nation states?  

The European Union in its own unique configuration will from the 6th till the 9th of June allow all European citizens to partake in the EU’s election by holding 27 parallel voting processes. The issue comes with the fact that EU states have different infrastructures and procedures of protection for their election. Making it difficult to coordinate action from the EU level at the national and local level inside the different European nations. Moreover, it will need only one case of disruption in one national election for the whole European parliament election to be seen as suspect. Which may create a domino effect, spreading doubt and lack of trust for the European institutions. 

In the short term, the cyber and defense team of the E.U have been working on a plan of defense and verification before and during the election. On a more long-term basis however, the solution remains for our societies and citizens to become more resilient, by teaching the new generations to develop a critical mind and learn how to fact-check information rapidly and effectively. 


Further Reading:



Georgian, A. (2024, March 22). Talking Europe - Cyberattacks, disinformation, election meddling in the EU: European democracies under pressure. France 24. https://www.france24.com/en/tv-shows/talking-europe/20240322-cyberattacks-disinformation-election-meddling-in-the-eu-european-democracies-under-pressure


Roussi, A. (2023, December 11). The European Parliament has an election security problem. POLITICO.https://www.politico.eu/article/european-parliament-election-cybersecurity-problem/






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