Helena Lyng Blak
4 weeks ago

Is Espionage On the Rise in Europe?

Unraveling the web of increasing espionage activities amid Europe's pivotal election year.
Only_NewPhoto / Shutterstock.com
Only_NewPhoto / Shutterstock.com

On Monday, April 22, 2024, a European Parliament staffer was arrested by German authorities on suspicion of “especially severe” espionage, Reuters reports.

The staffer, an aide to a member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the far-right, German party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), was allegedly passing information about European Union legislation to China.

Although significant, the aide is also just the latest in, what seems to be, an exponentially increasing line of alleged spies in Europe.

Also on Monday, two men were arrested in the United Kingdom under charges of espionage offences for China. Last week, two Russian-German men were arrested in Bavaria under suspicion of espionage for Russia. One of the men was also accused of planning an attack in Germany, Danmarks Radio reports. Every week, it seems, a new European espionage case sees the light of day.

Interference and Elections

Perhaps, the threat of espionage particularly strikes a chord in a year of European elections. 

This summer, each EU member state will vote and elect their representatives for the European parliament for the next five years. 

As the date approaches, concerns about foreign and antagonistic interference intensify. 

In March, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo claimed that MEPs had been approached and paid to promote Russian propaganda, and roughly two weeks ago, Czech and German newspapers reported that AfD MEP-candidate Petr Byston had been receiving money from a pro-Russian website.

Only a few days later, on April 12, De Croo announced an inquiry into Russian meddling following evidence from Belgian and Czech intelligence agencies.

De Croo underscored that the goal of this interference was promoting pro-Russian narratives in the EU Parliament to weaken European support for Ukraine, threatening the continent's security.

The European Decade of the Spy

But espionage has been an increasing problem for Europe longer than just 2024.

According to Politico, espionage against Western countries has been growing for years.

Deputy research director at the Swedish Defence Research Agency Michael Jonsson asserts that, “as geopolitical tensions have risen, the active measures, election meddling, disinformation campaigns and recruitment of spies by antagonistic intelligence agencies against both the US and Europe have become increasingly blatant.

He further argues that similar to the United States in the 1980s, the 2020s are shaping up to be “Europe’s decade of the spy”. And with an increasing number of espionage convictions in the last decade, it is hard to argue otherwise.

So as Europe braces for its upcoming elections amidst escalating geopolitical tensions, the role of espionage and interference cannot be underestimated. Its prevalence highlights ongoing security challenges and may prompt a reassessment of strategies to safeguard political processes and maintain stability.

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