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EU urged to take action against ‘dark money’ targeting women’s rights

openDemocracy appeared this week at a special European Parliament hearing about foreign interference and disinformation in the EU

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Kerry Cullinan
26 March 2021, 11.44am
Plenary hall (with deputies) of European Union parliament at Strasbourg
Ikars Kublins / Alamy Stock Photo

Funding for right-wing ‘anti-gender’ organisations in Europe has increased dramatically over the past decade – but there is little transparency about where the money comes from.

This was one of the key conclusions of a hearing convened yesterday (25 March) by two committees of the European Parliament focused on women’s rights and foreign interference in EU democracy.

“Last year we looked at the international spending of 28 US groups that oppose sexual and reproductive rights and found that, overall, Europe was the region where the most money was spent,” openDemocracy’s global investigations editor, Claire Provost, told the hearing.

“None of these groups reveals in their [tax] filings the identities of their donors or details of how they use their money overseas,” she added.

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However, openDemocracy’s investigations have followed some of this ‘dark money’ around the world and have revealed that key targets of this funding includes European courts.

Two US groups – the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) run by Jay Sekulow , Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – “have intervened in dozens of European court cases, including those against abortion and in defence of doctors who refuse to provide women with contraception,” said Provost.

ADF’s international lawyers, she explained, “have previously said they’re working to ensure ‘that bad European precedents don’t spread further in Europe, then across the sea to America’.”

Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF), told MEPs that anti-gender groups had spent hundreds of millions of dollars in total in Europe since 2019.

‘They want to subvert our democratic desires […] by attacking fundamental rights’

Most of this funding, he said, came from European sources, followed by Russia and the US. This is also “an underestimation because there are enormous data gaps – [it] is really the tip of the iceberg,” he added.

Key financiers include Russian oligarchs, and supported activities include anti-abortion and anti-LGBT campaigning, Christian political projects, social media activities and “Catholic fascism”.

French MEP Raphaël Glucksmann decried the involvement of “foreign powers” using abortion and women’s rights to “artificially polarise our societies to a level of unrest or so that it destabilises our democracies”.

“They want to subvert our democratic desires or want to influence our opinions and destabilise our public debate by attacking fundamental rights,” added Glucksmann, who chairs the EU’s Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE), which co-hosted the hearing,

Danish MEP Karen Melchior warned that the move to the right in Poland and Hungary “could happen to any of our European countries because it's precise, it’s planned and it's spreading”.

In addressing how to combat foreign interference, Datta said that the EU can “ensure greater financial transparency of non-state actors in their interactions with the EU and, if possible, with member states”.

Provost added that anti-rights “disinformation from the US is a major theme that should be looked into further”.

Spanish MEP Margarita de la Pisa Carrion, a member of the far-right Vox party, declared angrily that she was proudly “pro-life” and that “this event should never have happened as it is against the values of neutrality which cover the European Parliament”.

Glucksmann responded by saying: “Everybody here is in favour of life, but we’re also in favour of freedom and choice.”

Austrian MEP Evelyn Regner, chair of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM), the other co-host of the hearing, closed the proceedings with an appeal for transparency.

“Transparency is a friend of democracy. Transparency is a friend of gender equality, and what we need is really more transparency in all these money flows in order to defend human rights. And women's rights are human rights,” Regner said.

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