Green Deal Disinformation Slovakia: Ban on the sale of combustion engine cars sparked a wave of disinformation

The EU's measure to ban the sale of combustion engine cars from 2035 has sparked widespread debate, but also a wave of misinformation and misleading narratives. In Slovakia, they are spread by a number of actors close to political parties.

Pro-Kremlin disinformation sources in Slovakia are increasingly focusing on climate change and European Union (EU) climate action. One of the strongly resonating topics in recent months has been the ban on the sale of internal combustion engine cars in EU member states from 2035 adopted in June. Political actors characterised the measures as Russophobic and as detrimental to the EU economy and citizens, stoking fears of energy shortages and falling standards of living using manipulative techniques and argumentative fallacies.

Key Findings:

  • During the monitored period (May to August 2022), sources close to the opposition political entities (the Republic, the People’s Party Our Slovakia, the Slovak National Party and the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities) were mainly engaged in the topic.
  • Frequently there was exaggeration of the negative effects of the implementation of the measure and the fear of a reduction in the living standard of European citizens.
  • Among the most resonant narratives of the period was the false claim that the measure would cause significant shortages of all energy and economic decline in EU Member States.
  • The second major narrative was the accusation of hypocrisy, with the EU supposedly making life more difficult for ordinary people through climate action and, in turn, helping the elites (‚the super-rich‘) who can afford expensive electric cars.
  • At the same time, the posts were typical of pro-Russian sentiment. In many cases, there was a reference to the EU’s alleged ‚Russophobia‘ and its desire to weaken Russia through its green energy policies.
  • The debate also resonated in the Czech Republic, where it was mainly addressed by members of Okamura’s SPD party and Trikolora party. The topic has been exploited by these actors to fuel the campaign for the Czech Republic’s withdrawal from the EU („Czexit“).

Infosecurity.sk explored narratives on this topic as part of the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) joint project on climate and green energy. The analytical team examined narratives prevalent on Facebook. As part of the project, we monitored the Facebook content of actors included in Gerulata Technologies‘ list of pro-Russian sources. Then we manually searched for posts of other actors through the CrowdTangle tool.

Fear-mongering and accusations of ‚Russophobia‘ 

According to pro-Kremlin sources that we monitored, the energy alternative promoted by the EU is insufficient. For instance, Hlavny dennik disseminated this narrative saying that the EU will not be able to secure sufficient energy once the Russian resources are cut off. The narrative aims to spread fear by using strong hyperbole. Many actors monitored disseminated narratives aimed at creating an image of a strong and self-sufficient Russia. Among other things, they sought to convince the Slovak audience that Gazprom is a reliable energy partner. On the contrary, the West and especially the EU allegedly want to shut down Russian oil and gas to weaken Russia, belying their ‚Russophobia‘. The EU adoption of the ban on combustion engine cars as part of the Fit For 55 package under the European Green Deal on 8 June 2022, added a new dimension to the ongoing narratives.

According to Milan Uhrik, an independent MEP from the Republic party, the EU measure to ban the sale of cars with internal combustion engines will cause economic decline and both Europe and Slovakia will become „collapsed third world countries (sic)„. According to Uhrík, a far-right politician, Slovakia will not have enough energy because of the sanctions against Russia. In his Facebook status on 20 June, he claimed: „We won’t have Russian oil. We won’t have gas and gas power plants/boilers either. We won’t even have coal plants like Novaky. And we must not have nuclear power plants like Mochovce or Bohunice either.“ Uhrík was reacting to the ban on Russian oil and restrictions on Russian gas, the  lack of approval of natural gas as an intermediate energy source, as well as the negative stance on nuclear energy by some member states, all in an attempt to speed up the green transformation.

The status of Milan Uhrík from 20 June (right), the same text shared on the Facebook page of Hlavný denník (left).

Milan Uhrík’s post was shared around the same time by other profiles related to his party Republic (Milan Mazurek, Marián Ďuriš, Ján Kecskés, Republika and Denník Republika), as well as by other pro-Russian sources such as Hlavný denník and its newly created profile Denník, Som z dediny and Sila pravdy. The posts received a total of approximately 7,609 interactions (reactions, comments and shares).

The party journal, Denník Republika, also shared Uhrík’s status on its website, where it urged readers to sign a petition for „the fall of the government“. The status itself was manipulative as it intentionally led readers to believe that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Investment, Regional Development and Informatization Veronika Remišová had said that  people should simply buy Tesla cars. This sentence was placed at the very beginning of the status intentionally misleading the audience to believe it was a real statement by the minister and thus serving to undermine the current government.

Discrediting the EU

Posts discrediting the EU also came from political actors. One was the Facebook page of the Slovak National Party (SNS), which shared an image mocking European climate policy. The post was originally shared by SNS leader Andrej Danko, known for his nationalistic sentiment.

The post claimed that the EU had adopted a measure to ban the sale of cars with combustion engines because it wanted to make life difficult for ordinary people and force them to walk instead of driving cars, while the ‚ultra-rich‘ would receive subsidies for electric cars. This misleading post received a total of approximately 3,085 interactions.

The status of SNS’ leader Andrej Danko published on 9 June. The translation is as follows: „The cars with internal combustion engines end in 2035. According to the EU, we are to walk on foot, pay for expensive energy and food, so that the ultra-rich can take subsidies for huge electric cars. Why? Because they came up with it in Brussels, and to make things worse, we are to reach carbon neutrality in 2050. They don’t have anything better to do than to complicate people’s lives.“

The same narrative was also spread by the problematic pseudo-scientific media outlet Bádateľ, which mockingly prophesied that the European Union will break up 5 times by 2035. In addition, there was an article on Facebook from the media outlet Denník Standard, which claimed in its headline that the EU was protecting the „super-rich“. This conclusion was due to the exemption that companies such as Ferrari and Lamborghini were trying to push through.

MP Peter Kremský of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party also criticized the ban on the sale of cars with internal combustion engines. In a post on 26 June, Kremský argued that this is EU hypocrisy, which he also called „green ideology“. He argued that a ban would cost very much and would further increase the price of electricity, of which there is a  shortage, at a time of inflation. Comments under another of his posts reporting that German MEP Christian Lindner had refused to support the policy labelled the EU measure as ‚electro-madness‘, ‚self-destruction‘ or ‚eco-terrorism‘.

Last but not least, the European legislation was covered by Magazín1, a media outlet linked to the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia of Marian Kotleba. In the article, the media outlet tried to create the impression that there is a great deal of criticism of the legislation in the European Parliament (EP).

The criticism was aimed at the alleged reduction in the standard of living in European countries that will occur after 2035. The critical attitude of MEPs was purportedly  demonstrated by a video of a speech by the independent Croatian MEP Mislav Kolakušić, who claimed that the EU was declaring carbon dioxide and fossil fuels ‚enemies of EU citizens‘. This, according to the MEP, is ‚foolishness‘, because modern civilization was developed on fossil fuels. However, Kolakušić did not comment on the negative consequences of the use of fossil fuels. He also claimed that CO2 taxes will lead to the collapse and disaster of the European economy, echoing the rhetoric of Slovak MEP Milan Uhrík.

The article from Magazín1 was shared by members of the People’s Party Our Slovakia (party chairman Marian Kotleba, Marián Mišún) and its affiliates (Mário Vidák, Daniel Krištof). The post received a total of approximately 3,096 interactions.

The video capturing a speech by the non-attached Croatian MEP Mislav Kolakušić in the European Parliament shared by the leader of the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia on 12 June. The title of the article is as follows: “Your policies will destroy us! We will not heat our homes and we will ride on bikes! You are crazy!”

„Czexit“

In cooperation with other project partners from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Czech Republic, we obtained information on the prevalence of posts on the given topic in these countries as well. It was particularly addressed by actors in the Czech Republic, where Tomio Okamura’s Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party dealt with it in June. To a lesser extent, there were also posts by members of the right-wing Eurosceptic party Trikolora.

Following the EU decision, SPD leader Tomio Okamura shared a post on 9 June in which he claimed that the measure would destroy the Czech economy, which is dependent on coal and the car industry. The Green deal, which he calls a ‚Great Leap in the manner of Mao Zedong‘, will be fatal for the Czech Republic, he said.

Okamura has used the topic to promote the idea of „Czexit“, the Czech Republic’s withdrawal from the EU: „The EU is not helping, it is harming. The sooner we leave, the better.“ In addition, Okamura’s post spread several climate myths and disinformation, such as that climate warming is not caused by CO2 emissions or that the warming of the Earth is not a problem because it has happened in the past. The post received approximately 5,158 interactions. On 8 June, the Odchod.eu website also published a video calling for Czexit, which received 24 thousand views. This is interesting information, as this page focuses precisely on attacking European green politics in an attempt to generate arguments for the Czech Republic’s withdrawal from the EU.

In addition, Okamura has proposed withdrawing from the Green Deal and from EU emission allowances. Later, he also reacted to the approval of a ban on the sale of internal combustion engine cars by government MPs. In a post on 15 June, he argued that the ban will greatly harm the citizens of the Czech Republic, most of whom will not be able to afford expensive electric cars. Electric cars, which are „very expensive, impractical and unsafe compared to current cars“, will only be affordable by the wealthiest. This post has received approximately 3,322 interactions.

We can therefore assume that the discourse on the topic of banning the sale of combustion engine cars in the EU from 2035 as part of the Green Deal is almost identical in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In both countries, different actors use this topic to discredit the EU, whose green policies they describe as destructive for the economies and living standards of the individual states. In the Czech Republic, moreover, several actors are using the topic to promote the idea of withdrawal from the EU. The idea of an invasive EU that interferes in the lives of ordinary people also emerged in Romania, where individual actors operate with a broader narrative describing the Green Deal as a threat to rural and conservative communities. Similarly, in Romania, a narrative has emerged about the reduction in living standards and economic prosperity of Member States as a result of the EU’s green policies.

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Interná doktorandka na Katedre politológie Univerzity Pavla Jozefa Šafárika v Košiciach. Absolvovala stáž v Kancelárii prezidenta Slovenskej republiky na Odbore medzinárodnej politiky. Pôsobila ako editorka obsahu v rámci newsletteru o dezinformáciách Digital Infospace Security Initiative. Publikuje ako stážistka v think-tanku Stratpol. Venuje sa témam ako je environmentálna geopolitika, geopolitika Arktídy a dôsledky klimatickej zmeny. Kontakt: michaela.ruzickova@infosecurity.sk