Analysis: In the age of AI, keep calm and vote on

This article is part of a series, Bots and ballots: How artificial intelligence is reshaping elections worldwide, presented by Luminate.

When I started this series on artificial intelligence, disinformation and global elections, I had a pretty clear picture in mind.

It came down to this: While AI had garnered people’s imagination — and the likes of deepfakes and other AI-generated falsehoods were starting to bubble to the surface — the technology did not yet represent a step change in how politically motivated lies, often spread via social media, would alter the mega-election cycle engulfing the world in 2024.

Now, after nine stories and reporting trips from Chișinău to Seattle, I haven’t seen anything that would alter that initial view. But things, as always, are more complicated — and more volatile — than I first believed.

What’s clear, based on more than 100  interviews with policymakers, government officials, tech executives and civil society groups, is that the technology — specifically, generative AI — is getting more advanced by the day.

During the course of my reporting, I was shown deepfake videos, purportedly portraying global leaders like U.S. President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, that were indistinguishable from the real thing. They included politicians allegedly speaking in multiple languages and saying things that, if true, would have ended their careers.

They were so lifelike that it would take a lot to convince anyone without deep technical expertise that an algorithm had created them.

Despite being a tech reporter, I’m not a fanboy of technology. But the speed of AI advancements, and their ease of use by those with little, if any, computer science background, should give us all pause for concern.

The second key theme that surprised me from this series was how much oversight had been outsourced to companies — many of which were the same firms that created the AI systems that could be used for harm.

More than 25 tech giants have now signed up to the so-called AI Election Accords, voluntary commitments from companies including Microsoft, ByteDance and Alphabet to do what they can to protect global elections from the threat posed by AI.

Given the track record of many of these firms in protecting users from existing harms, including harassment and bullying on social media, it’s a massive leap of faith to rely on them to safeguard election integrity.

That’s despite the legitimate goodwill I perceived from multiple interviews with corporate executives within these firms to reduce politically motivated harm as much as possible.

The problem, as of mid-2024, is that governments, regulators and other branches of the state are just not prepared for the potential threat — and it does remain potential — tied to AI.

Much of the technical expertise resides deep within companies. Legislative efforts, including the European Union’s recently passed Artificial Intelligence Act, are, at best, works in progress. The near total lack of oversight of how social media platforms’ AI-powered algorithms operate makes it impossible to rely on anyone other than tech giants themselves to police how these systems determine what people see online.

With AI advancing faster than you can say “large language model” and governments struggling to keep up, why am I still cautious about heralding this as the year of AI-fueled disinformation, just as billions of people head to the polls in 2024?

For now, I have a potentially naive belief that people are smarter than many of us think they are.

As easy as it is to think that one well-placed AI deepfake on social media may change the minds of unsuspecting voters, that’s not how people make their political choices. Entrenched views on specific lawmakers or parties make it difficult to shift people’s opinions. The fact that AI-fueled forgeries must be viewed in a wider context — alongside other social media posts, discussions with family members and interactions with legacy media — also hamstring the ability for such lies to break through.

Where I believe we’re heading, though, is a “post-post-truth” era, where people will think everything, and I mean everything, is made up, especially online. Think “fake news,” but turned up to 11, where not even the most seemingly authentic content can be presumed to be 100 percent true.

We’re already seeing examples of politicians claiming that damaging social media posts are deepfakes when, in fact, they are legitimate. With the hysteria around AI often outpacing what the technology can currently do — despite daily advances — there’s now a widespread willingness to believe all content can be created via AI, even when it can’t. 

In such a world, it’s only rational to not have faith in anything.

The positive is that we’re not there yet. If the nine articles in this “Bots and Ballots” series show anything, it’s that, yes, AI-fueled disinformation is upon us. But no, it’s not an existential threat, and it must be viewed as part of a wider world of ‘old-school’ campaigning and, in some cases, foreign interference and cyberattacks. AI is an agnostic tool, to be wielded for good or ill.

Will that change in the years to come? Potentially. But for this year’s election cycle, your best bet is to remain vigilant, without getting caught up in the hype-train that artificial intelligence has become.

Mark Scott is POLITICO’s chief technology correspondent. He writes a weekly newsletter, Digital Bridge, about the global intersection of technology and politics. 

This article is part of a series, Bots and ballots: How artificial intelligence is reshaping elections worldwide, presented by Luminate. The article is produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.



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Elon Musk: Diversity-based hiring is antisemitic

KRAKÓW, Poland — Elon Musk has upped his war on woke by saying that diverse hiring policies are “fundamentally antisemitic” and discriminatory, shortly after a private visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp.

The controversial tech billionaire was speaking at a European Jewish Association (EJA) conference in the Polish city of Kraków, amid rising criticism that his social media platform — X, formerly Twitter — has allowed rampant hate speech to spread. Musk himself sparked outrage in November when he publicly agreed with an antisemitic tweet claiming that Jewish communities have been “pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.”

While his trip to Poland allowed him to push back at the charges of antisemitism, he also seized the opportunity to turn his fire against one of his favorite bugbears: “Diversity, equity and inclusion” policies.

“Always be wary of any name that sounds like it could come out of a George Orwell book. That’s never a good sign,” Musk told American right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro, who joined him onstage. “Sure, diversity, equity and inclusion all sound like nice words, but what it really means is discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation and it’s against merit and thus I think it’s fundamentally antisemitic.”

Musk, who confirmed that he does indeed write all of his own posts on X, has been vocal about his feelings toward diversity, equity and inclusion, including by claiming, without evidence, that diverse hiring initiatives at Boeing and United Airlines have made air travel less safe.

His comments feed into a broader debate on inclusive hiring policies, most especially on U.S. college campuses. The resignation of Harvard President Claudine Gay over a plagiarism scandal was seized upon by Republicans, who claim top schools are examples of American institutions in the throes of a leftist political transformation. Critics argue this radical leftist culture on campuses is stoking antisemitism, and top university leaders hit heavy flak last month for their poor handling of a congressional hearing on the bullying of Jews.

On Monday, Shapiro went easy on Musk, steering the conversation towards meritocracy rather than Musk’s increasingly controversial social media outbursts and allowing the Tesla boss to continue his attacks on a subject he has made a great deal of mileage out of.

“I think we need return to … a focus on merit and it doesn’t matter whether you’re man, woman, what race you are, what beliefs you have, what matters is how good you are at your job or what are your skills,” Musk said.

In defense of X

At the EJA conference — a daylong summit on the rise of antisemitism in the aftermath of the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas — Musk also defended X against accusations of antisemitism and hate speech, saying freedom of speech must be protected even when controversial. According to the billionaire, who cited audits without offering further details, X has “the least amount of antisemitism” among all social media platforms, adding that TikTok has “five times the amount of antisemitism” that X has.

“Relentless pursuit of the truth is the goal with X,” Musk said. “And allowing people to say what they want to say even if it’s controversial, provided it does not break the law, is the right thing to do.”

Musk has faced widespread criticism over the rise of disinformation and hate content since he bought the social media platform for $44 billion in 2022, criticism that intensified in the weeks following the escalation of the Israel-Hamas war last October.

The reported spread of fake and misleading content on the conflict led the EU to launch an investigation into X. And things got worse for Musk after progressive watchdog group Media Matters published a report alleging that X had run ads for major companies next to neo-Nazi posts.

The Media Matters report and Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic post sparked a backlash from several public figures and culminated in an advertiser exodus, as multiple companies pulled their ads from the site, including giants such as Apple, IBM, Disney and Coca-Cola. According to a New York Times report, this could result in a loss of up to $75 million for X.

Musk has since apologized for the antisemitic post — admitting he should not have replied to it — and then traveled to Israel to meet with President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in what could be seen as an apology tour.

Speaking about his visit to Israel, Musk said indoctrinated Hamas fighters have to be “killed or imprisoned” to prevent them from killing more Israelis. And the next step is fighting further indoctrination in Gaza, he added.

“The indoctrination of hate into kids in Gaza has to stop,” Musk said. “I understand the need to invade Gaza, and unfortunately some innocent people will die, there’s no way around it, but the most important thing to ensure is that afterwards the indoctrination … stops.”

According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, Israeli airstrikes and ground attacks have killed over 25,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 60,000 since the attack by Hamas on October 7, in which Israeli officials say the militant group killed over 1,200 nationals and foreigners and took 240 hostages.

Musk said the West has shifted to a mentality that equates smaller, weaker groups with goodness.

“We need to stop the principle that the normally weaker party is always right, this is simply not true,” Musk said. “If you are oppressed or the weaker party it doesn’t mean you’re right.”

Musk — who joked multiple times that he considers himself “Jew by aspiration” and “by association” — was supposed to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp on Tuesday alongside other speakers and political leaders from the EJA conference, but he instead took a private tour of the site with his young son.

The Auschwitz Museum itself was among one of the entities that had called out Musk for failing to contain antisemitic content.



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Kamala Harris at climate summit: World must ‘fight’ those stalling action

DUBAI — The vast, global efforts to arrest rising temperatures are imperiled and must accelerate, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told the world climate summit on Saturday. 

“We must do more,” she implored an audience of world leaders at the COP28 climate talks in Dubai. And the headwinds are only growing, she warned.

“Continued progress will not be possible without a fight,” she told the gathering, which has drawn more than 100,000 people to this Gulf oil metropolis. “Around the world, there are those who seek to slow or stop our progress. Leaders who deny climate science, delay climate action and spread misinformation. Corporations that greenwash their climate inaction and lobby for billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies.” 

Her remarks — less than a year before an election that could return Donald Trump to the White House — challenged leaders to cooperate and spend more to keep the goal of containing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. So far, the planet has warmed about 1.3 degrees since preindustrial times.

“Our action collectively, or worse, our inaction will impact billions of people for decades to come,” Harris said.

The vice president, who frequently warns about climate change threats in speeches and interviews, is the highest-ranking face of the Biden White House at the Dubai negotiations.

She used her conference platform to push that image, announcing several new U.S. climate initiatives, including a record-setting $3 billion pledge for the so-called Green Climate Fund, which aims to help countries adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. The commitment echoes an identical pledge Barack Obama made in 2014 — of which only $1 billion was delivered. The U.S. Treasury Department later specified that the updated commitment was “subject to the availability of funds.”

Meanwhile, back in D.C., the Biden administration strategically timed the release of new rules to crack down on planet-warming methane emissions from the oil and gas sector — a significant milestone in its plan to prevent climate catastrophe.

The trip allows Harris to bolster her credentials on a policy issue critical to the young voters key to President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign — and potentially to a future Harris White House run. 

“Given her knowledge base with the issue, her passion for the issue, it strikes me as a smart move for her to broaden that message out to the international audience,” said Roger Salazar, a California political strategist and former aide to then-Vice President Al Gore, a lifetime climate campaigner. 

Yet sending Harris also presents political peril. 

Biden has taken flak from critics for not attending the talks himself after representing the United States at the last two U.N. climate summits since taking office. And climate advocates have questioned the Biden administration’s embrace of the summit’s leader, Sultan al-Jaber, given he also runs the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned oil giant. John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, has argued the partnership can help bring fossil fuel megaliths to the table.

Harris has been on a climate policy roadshow in recent months, discussing the issue during a series of interviews at universities and other venues packed with young people and environmental advocates. The administration said it views Harris — a former California senator and attorney general — as an effective spokesperson on climate. 

“The vice president’s leadership on climate goes back to when she was the district attorney of San Francisco, as she established one of the first environmental justice units in the nation,” a senior administration official told reporters on a call previewing her trip. 

Joining Harris in Dubai are Kerry, White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi and John Podesta, who’s leading the White House effort to implement Biden’s signature climate law. 

Biden officials are leaning on that climate law — dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act — to prove the U.S. is doing its part to slash global emissions. Yet climate activists remain skeptical, chiding Biden for separately approving a series of fossil fuel projects, including an oil drilling initiative in Alaska and an Appalachian natural gas pipeline.

Similarly, the Biden administration’s opening COP28 pledge of $17.5 million for a new international climate aid fund frustrated advocates for developing nations combating climate threats. The figure lagged well behind other allies, several of whom committed $100 million or more.

Nonetheless, Harris called for aggressive action in her speech, which was followed by a session with other officials on renewable energy. The vice president committed the U.S. to doubling its energy efficiency and tripling its renewable energy capacity by 2030, joining a growing list of countries. The U.S. also said Saturday it was joining a global alliance dedicated to divorcing the world from coal-based energy. 

Like other world leaders, Harris also used her trip to conduct a whirlwind of diplomacy over the war between Israel and Hamas, which has flared back up after a brief truce.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Harris would be meeting with “regional leaders” to discuss “our desire to see this pause restored, our desire to see aid getting back in, our desire to see hostages get out.”

The war has intruded into the proceedings at the climate summit, with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas both skipping their scheduled speaking slots on Friday. Iran’s delegation also walked out of the summit, objecting to Israel’s presence.

Kirby said Harris will convey “that we believe the Palestinian people need a vote and a voice in their future, and then they need governance in Gaza that will look after their aspirations and their needs.”

Although Biden won’t be going to Dubai, the administration said these climate talks are “especially” vital, given countries will decide how to respond to a U.N. assessment that found the world’s climate efforts are falling short. 

“This is why the president has made climate a keystone of his administration’s foreign policy agenda,” the senior administration official said.

Robin Bravender reported from Washington, D.C. Zia Weise and Charlie Cooper reported from Dubai. 

Sara Schonhardt contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.



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Israel’s appetite for high-tech weapons highlights a Biden policy gap

Within hours of the Hamas attack on Israel last month, a Silicon Valley drone company called Skydio began receiving emails from the Israeli military. The requests were for the company’s short-range reconnaissance drones — small flying vehicles used by the U.S. Army to navigate obstacles autonomously and produce 3D scans of complex structures like buildings.

The company said yes. In the three weeks since the attack, Skydio has sent more than 100 drones to the Israeli Defense Forces, with more to come, according to Mark Valentine, the Skydio executive in charge of government contracts.

Skydio isn’t the only American tech company fielding orders. Israel’s ferocious campaign to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip is creating new demand for cutting-edge defense technology — often supplied directly by newer, smaller manufacturers, outside the traditional nation-to-nation negotiations for military supplies.

Already, Israel is using self-piloting drones from Shield AI for close-quarters indoor combat and has reportedly requested 200 Switchblade 600 kamikaze drones from another U.S. company, according to DefenseScoop. Jon Gruen, CEO of Fortem Technologies, which supplied Ukrainian forces with radar and autonomous anti-drone aircraft, said he was having “early-stage conversations” with Israelis about whether the company’s AI systems could work in the dense, urban environments in Gaza.

This surge of interest echoes the one driven by the even larger conflict in Ukraine, which has been a proving ground for new AI-powered defense technology — much of it ordered by the Ukrainian government directly from U.S. tech companies.

AI ethicists have raised concerns about the Israeli military’s use of AI-driven technologies to target Palestinians, pointing to reports that the army used AI to strike more than 11,000 targets in Gaza since Hamas militants launched a deadly assault on Israel on Oct 7.

The Israeli defense ministry did not elaborate in response to questions about its use of AI.

These sophisticated platforms also pose a new challenge for the Biden administration. On Nov. 13, the U.S. began implementing a new foreign policy to govern the responsible military use of such technologies. The policy, first unveiled in the Hague in February and endorsed by 45 other countries, is an effort to keep the military use of AI and autonomous systems within the international law of war.

But neither Israel nor Ukraine are signatories, leaving a growing hole in the young effort to keep high-tech weapons operating within agreed-upon lines.

Asked about Israel’s compliance with the U.S.-led declaration on military AI, a spokesperson for the State Department said “it is too early” to draw conclusions about why some countries have not endorsed the document, or to suggest that non-endorsing countries disagree with the declaration or will not adhere to its principles.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program, said in an interview that “it’s very difficult” to coordinate international agreement between nations on the military use of AI for two reasons: “One is that the technology is evolving so quickly that the description constraints you put on it today may no longer may not be relevant five years from now because the technology will be so different. The other thing is that so much of this technology is civilian, that it’s hard to restrict military development without also affecting civilian development.”

In Gaza, drones are being largely used for surveillance, scouting locations and looking for militants without risking soldiers’ lives, according to Israeli and U.S. military technology developers and observers interviewed for this story.

Israel discloses few specifics of how it uses this technology, and some worry the Israeli military is using unreliable AI recommendation systems to identify targets for lethal operations.

Ukrainian forces have used experimental AI systems to identify Russian soldiers, weapons and unit positions from social media and satellite feeds.

Observers say that Israel is a particularly fast-moving theater for new weaponry because it has a technically sophisticated military, large budget, and — crucially — close existing ties to the U.S. tech industry.

“The difference, now maybe more than ever, is the speed at which technology can move and the willingness of suppliers of that technology to deal directly with Israel,” said Arun Seraphin, executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Institute for Emerging Technologies.

Though the weapons trade is subject to scrutiny and regulation, autonomous systems also raise special challenges. Unlike traditional military hardware, buyers are able to reconfigure these smart platforms for their own needs, adding a layer of inscrutability to how these systems are used.

While many of the U.S.-built, AI-enabled drones sent to Israel are not armed and not programmed by the manufacturers to identify specific vehicles or people, these airborne robots are designed to leave room for military customers to run their own custom software, which they often prefer to do, multiple manufacturers told POLITICO.

Shield AI co-founder Brandon Tseng confirmed that users are able to customize the Nova 2 drones that the IDF is using to search for barricaded shooters and civilians in buildings targeted by Hamas fighters.

Matt Mahmoudi, who authored Amnesty International’s May report documenting Israel’s use of facial recognition systems in Palestinian territories, told POLITICO that historically, U.S. technology companies contracting with Israeli defense authorities have had little insight or control over how their products are used by the Israeli government, pointing to several instances of the Israeli military running its own AI software on hardware imported from other countries to closely monitor the movement of Palestinians.

Complicating the issue are the blurred lines between military and non-military technology. In the industry, the term is “dual-use” — a system, like a drone-swarm equipped with computer-vision, that might be used for commercial purposes but could also be deployed in combat.

The Technology Policy Lab at the Center for a New American Security writes that “dual-use technologies are more difficult to regulate at both the national and international levels” and notes that in order for the U.S. to best apply export controls, it “requires complementary commitment from technology-leading allies and partners.”

Exportable military-use AI systems can run the gamut from commercial products to autonomous weapons. Even in cases where AI-enabled systems are explicitly designed as weapons, meaning U.S. authorities are required by law to monitor the transfer of these systems to another country, the State Department only recently adopted policies to monitor civilian harm caused by these weapons, in response to Congressional pressure.

But enforcement is still a question mark: Josh Paul, a former State Department official, wrote that a planned report on the policy’s implementation was canceled because the department wanted to avoid any debate on civilian harm risks in Gaza from U.S. weapons transfers to Israel.

A Skydio spokesperson said the company is currently not aware of any users breaching its code of conduct and would “take appropriate measures” to mitigate the misuse of its drones. A Shield AI spokesperson said the company is confident its products are not being used to violate humanitarian norms in Israel and “would not support” the unethical use of its products.

In response to queries about whether the U.S. government is able to closely monitor high-tech defense platforms sent by smaller companies to Israel or Ukraine, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said it was restricted from publicly commenting or confirming the details of commercially licensed defense trade activity.

Some observers point out that the Pentagon derives some benefit from watching new systems tested elsewhere.

“The great value for the United States is we’re getting to field test all this new stuff,” said CSIS’s Cancian — a process that takes much longer in peacetime environments and allows the Pentagon to place its bets on novel technologies with more confidence, he added.



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It’s time to hang up on the old telecoms rulebook

Joakim Reiter | via Vodafone

Around 120 years ago, Guglielmo Marconi planted the seeds of a communications revolution, sending the first message via a wireless link over open water. “Are you ready? Can you hear me?”, he said. Now, the telecommunications industry in Europe needs policymakers to heed that call, to realize the vision set by its 19th-century pioneers.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution. Mobile networks are becoming programmable platforms — supercomputers that will fundamentally underpin European industrial productivity, growth and competitiveness. Combined with cloud, AI and the internet of things, the era of industrial internet will transform our economy and way of life, bringing smarter cities, energy grids and health care, as well as autonomous transport systems, factories and more to the real world.

5G is already connecting smarter, autonomous factory technologies | via Vodafone

Europe should be at the center of this revolution, just as it was in the early days of modern communications.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution.

Even without looking at future applications, the benefits of a healthy telecoms industry for society are clear to see. Mobile technologies and services generated 5 percent of global GDP, equivalent to €4.3 trillion, in 2021. More than five billion people around the world are connected to mobile services — more people today have access to mobile communications than they do to safely-managed sanitation services. And with the combination of satellite solutions, the prospect of ensuring every person on the planet is connected may soon be within reach.

Satellite solutions, combined with mobile communications, could eliminate coverage gaps | via Vodafone

In our recent past, when COVID-19 spread across the world and societies went into lockdown, connectivity became critical for people to work from home, and for enabling schools and hospitals to offer services online.  And with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when millions were forced to flee the safety of their homes, European network operators provided heavily discounted roaming and calling to ensure refugees stayed connected with loved ones.

A perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe.

These are all outcomes and opportunities, depending on the continuous investment of telecoms’ private companies.

And yet, a perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe. The war on our continent triggered a 15-fold increase in wholesale energy prices and rapid inflation. EU telecoms operators have been under pressure ever since to keep consumer prices low during a cost-of-living crisis, while confronting rapidly growing operational costs as a result. At the same time, operators also face the threat of billions of euros of extra, unforeseen costs as governments change their operating requirements in light of growing geopolitical concerns.

Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The odds are dangerously stacked against the long-term sustainability of our industry and, as a result, Europe’s own digital ambitions. Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The signs of Europe’s decline are obvious for those willing to take a closer look. European countries are lagging behind in 5G mobile connectivity, while other parts of the world — including Thailand, India and the Philippines — race ahead. Independent research by OpenSignal shows that mobile users in South Korea have an active 5G connection three times more often than those in Germany, and more than 10 times their counterparts in Belgium.

Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Average 5G connectivity in Brazil is more than three times faster than in Czechia or Poland. A recent report from the European Commission — State of the Digital Decade (europa.eu) shows just how far Europe needs to go to reach the EU’s connectivity targets for 2030.

To arrest this decline, and successfully meet EU’s digital ambitions, something has got to give. Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Competition, innovation and efficient investment are the driving forces for the telecoms sector today. It’s time to unleash these powers — not blindly perpetuate old rules. We agree with Commissioner Breton’s recent assessment: Europe needs to redefine the DNA of its telecoms regulation. It needs a new rulebook that encourages innovation and investment, and embraces the logic of a true single market. It must reduce barriers to growth and scale in the sector and ensure spectrum — the lifeblood of our industry — is managed more efficiently. And it must find faster, futureproofed ways to level the playing field for all business operating in the wider digital sector.  

But Europe is already behind, and we are running out of time. It is critical that the EU finds a balance between urgent, short-term measures and longer-term reforms. It cannot wait until 2025 to implement change.

Europeans deserve better communications technology | via Vodafone

When Marconi sent that message back in 1897, the answer to his question was, “loud and clear”. As Europe’s telecoms ministers convene this month in León, Spain, their message must be loud and clear too. European citizens and businesses deserve better communications. They deserve a telecoms rulebook that ensures networks can deliver the next revolution in digital connectivity and services.



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Why we need to improve heart health in Europe

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one killer in Europe. They cost the EU an estimated €282 billion in 2021, larger than the entire EU budget itself.[1] Sixty million people live with CVDs in the EU, while 13 million new cases are diagnosed annually.[2]

Behind this data are individual stories of suffering and loss, of lives limited and horizons lowered by, for example, heart attack and stroke. These diseases directly affect every community in every country. And they strain our health services which must respond to cardiac emergencies as well as the ongoing care needs of chronic CVD patients.

Sixty million people live with CVDs in the EU, while 13 million new cases are diagnosed annually.

Cardiovascular health is a priority not just because of the scale of its impact, but because of the scope we see for significant advances in outcomes for patients. We should take inspiration from the past: between 2000 and 2012, the death rate from CVDs fell by 37 percent in the five largest western European countries (France, Germany, the U.K., Spain and Italy).[2] This progress was achieved through a combination of medical innovations, and supported by a mix of health care policies and guidelines that propelled progress and improved patients’ lives.

New treatments can now help prevent strokes or treat pulmonary embolisms. Others can delay kidney disease progression, while at the same time preventing cardiovascular events.

Despite progress, this downward trend has reversed and we are seeing an increase in the CVD burden across all major European countries.

And the research continues. Precision medicines are in development for inherited CVD-risk factors like elevated lipoprotein(a), which affects up to 20 percent of the population.[3] A new class of anti-thrombotics promises to bring better treatments for the prevention of clotting, without increasing the risk of bleeding. New precision cardiology approaches, such as gene therapy in congestive heart failure, are being investigated as potential cures.

Despite progress, this downward trend has reversed and we are seeing an increase in the CVD burden across all major European countries.[4]

Getting the definitions right

This year’s World Heart Day, spearheaded by the World Heart Federation, comes amid the revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation. The European Commission’s proposal of a narrow definition of unmet medical need, which could hamper innovation is causing deep concern across stakeholders.

Instead, a patient-centered definition of unmet medical need taking the full spectrum of patient needs into consideration, would incentivize more avenues of research addressing the needs of people living with chronic conditions. It would provide a basis for drafting the next chapter in the history of cardiovascular medicines — one that we hope will be written in Europe and benefit people in the EU and beyond. Not only would this inspire advances that help people to live longer, but it would also improve quality of life for those at risk of, and affected by, cardiovascular events.

Unmet medical need criteria currently included in the draft Pharmaceutical Legislation would do a disservice to patients by downplaying the chronic nature of many CVDs, and the importance of patient-reported outcomes and experience.[5] And many of the advances seen in recent decades would fall short of the narrow definition under consideration. This limited approach disregards incremental innovation, which might otherwise reduce pain, slow disease progression, or improve treatment adherence by taking account of patient preferences for how therapies are administered.

Much of the illness and death caused by CVD is preventable — in fact, 9 out of 10 heart attacks can be avoided.

At this moment it is unclear how the unmet medical need criteria in the legislation will apply to these and other situations. Policymakers should create a multistakeholder platform with the space to discuss patients’ needs, getting expert views from medical societies, patients and industry to better understand the innovation environment. The European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health (EACH), a multistakeholder network comprised of 17 organizations in the CVD space in Europe, stands ready to inform policymakers about the CVD burden and the pressing needs of patients. [6] EACH not only supports the EU´s endeavor to develop more policies on CVD, it also supports and promotes the idea of an EU Cardiovascular Health Plan to work towards better patients’ health care across the EU and more equal health standards. So far, structured discussions with such stakeholders do not sufficiently take place, and we risk missing those opportunities, and lose in both patient access as well as R&D attractiveness of the EU.

Primary and secondary prevention

As well as driving future innovation, Europe must also make the best possible use of the tools we have now. We must do what works — everywhere.

At the heart of this approach is prevention. Much of the illness and death caused by CVD is preventable — in fact, 9 out of 10 heart attacks can be avoided.[7] Primary prevention can dramatically reduce rates of heart attack, stroke and other CVDs. Secondary prevention, which includes screening and disease management, such as simple blood tests and urine tests, as well as blood pressure and BMI monitoring, has a key role to play in containing the burden of disease. [8]

Joint cardiovascular and diabetes health checks at primary care level, taking an evidence-based approach, would help diagnose and treat CVD before the onset of acute symptoms.[9] By following current treatment guidelines and protocols, health care professionals across Europe can help to prevent complications, improve health outcomes for patients and save health care costs. Also here, a multistakeholder approach is key. Policymakers should not miss out on listening to the CVD multistakeholder alliances that have already formed — at EU and at EU member countries level, as for example EACH. These partnerships are great ways for policymakers to better understand the needs of patients and to get the experts’ views.

Research-driven companies exist to meet the needs of patients in Europe and around the world. We need to create an environment that enables companies to embark on complex and unpredictable trials. That means having the rights incentives and clarity on the regulatory pathway for future treatments.


[1] https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Price-tag-on-cardiovascular-disease-in-Europe-higher-than-entire-EU-budget

[2] https://iris.unibocconi.it/retrieve/handle/11565/4023471/115818/Torbica%20EHJ%202019.pdf

[3] https://www.acc.org/Latest-in-Cardiology/Articles/2019/07/02/08/05/Lipoproteina-in-Clinical-Practice

[4] https://www.efpia.eu/about-medicines/use-of-medicines/disease-specific-groups/transforming-the-lives-of-people-living-with-cardiovascular-diseases/cvd-dashboards

[5] https://health.ec.europa.eu/medicinal-products/pharmaceutical-strategy-europe/reform-eu-pharmaceutical-legislation_en

[6] https://www.cardiovascular-alliance.eu/

[7] https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/STROKEAHA.119.024154

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331469/

[9] https://www.efpia.eu/news-events/the-efpia-view/statements-press-releases/because-we-can-t-afford-not-to-let-s-make-a-joint-health-check-for-cardiovascular-disease-cvd-and-diabetes-happen/



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Putin’s media machine turns on ‘traitor’ Prigozhin

From national hero to drug-addled, bewigged zero: the Kremlin’s propaganda machine has turned against Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.

In a sensational report on state-run Rossiya-1’s “60 Minutes” program on Wednesday evening, the Kremlin’s propaganda attack dogs played footage of what they claimed was a raid of Prigozhin’s mansion and offices, showing cash, guns, drugs, a helicopter, multiple (Russian) passports — and a closet full of terrible wigs.

“The investigation is continuing,” said pundit Eduard Petrov at the top of the program, referring to the probe into the mutiny led by Prigozhin last month, during which the leader of the Wagner Group of mercenaries marched his men to within 200 kilometers of Moscow in a bid to oust the country’s military leadership. “In reality, no one planned to close this case,” he added.

It was an open declaration of war on Prigozhin, and came after Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides issued improbable assurances that the criminal case into those who had organized the mutiny would be dropped if the warlord and his Wagnerites agreed to either disarm, sign contracts with the Russian defense ministry, or leave for Belarus. On Thursday morning, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who ostensibly negotiated the exile agreement with Prigozhin and Putin, told state media the warlord was not in the country.

“We need to figure out who was on whose side,” Petrov pronounced on “60 Minutes.” “Who was on the mutineers’ side? They should be punished and brought to criminal justice. So the nation understands that if a person acts against their government, they will be punished very, very harshly. Not ‘see you later, I’m going out.’”

“Tomes” of evidence is being combed over by Russian authorities, a gloating Petrov told the audience of the evening show. “Very soon, very very soon, we will hear what stage the criminal case is at.”

Cue: Footage — obtained from unnamed siloviki (a term used to describe members of the military or security services) — of Russia’s special forces raiding what Petrov described as Prigozhin’s “nest” — aka the offices of his now-shuttered Patriot Media company, and his palatial home.

“I believe the image of Yevgeny Prigozhin as a champion of the people was entirely created by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s well-fed media empire,” Petrov said contemptuously and seemingly unironically — never mind that Rossiya-1 itself portrayed Prigozhin as a hero mere weeks ago.

Remaking a murder

Until recently, the Kremlin’s propagandists painted Prigozhin, a 62-year-old one-time caterer and convicted felon, as a macho hero, a Russian Rambo decapitating traitors with sledgehammers on the front line.

Things got complicated when Prigozhin began publicly railing against Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, ranting and raging to his growing cadre of devoted fans on social media.

Still, Prigozhin never criticized Putin, and Putin allowed Prigozhin to continue building his brand, so long as his men kept holding down the fort in the most brutal battles in the war on Ukraine. Then Prigozhin crossed the line by marching his men on Moscow.

Putin’s retribution was always going to be brutal — first, though, he’s destroying Prigozhin’s image and undermining his reputation.

Back to Wednesday night’s “60 Minutes.”

“Why did we forget about Prigozhin’s past?” an impassioned Petrov asked. “Everyone knew about it. Everyone talked about it. Spoke about the fact that he has been on trial twice. His criminal past.”

Showing footage of what he said was Prigozhin’s 600 million ruble (€6 million) mansion, Petrov crowed: “Let’s see how this champion of the truth lived — a twice-convicted champion — a champion who spoke about how everyone around him is stealing.

“Inside Yevgeny Prigozhin’s little house there’s currency lying around like this, in a box, held together by rubber bands,” Petrov continued. “Now let’s see the palace of the fighter of corruption and criminality, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Here’s his palace. Here’s his house. His daughter sometimes posts videos from here, by the way — and she’s not always in good condition.”

Then, the pièce de résistance of the video: a closet full of bad wigs.

“Oh!” exclaimed Petrov as the footage rolled. “This is a closet full of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s secrets — wigs! Why does he need wigs at his house?”

It wasn’t long until Telegram, the social media platform popular among Russians, was flooded with photos of Prigozhin in a variety of wigs and disguises. (Though intriguingly, the photos appeared to come from a Prigozhin-friendly account called “Release the Kraken,” which said it had sourced them from the Patriot Media archive.)

The program also aired footage of what Petrov speculated were drugs found in Prigozhin’s mansion. A Prigozhin-friendly Telegram account which has previously featured voice messages from the warlord himself denied the house in the video belonged to Prigozhin, and claimed the “drugs” were actually laundry detergent.

Divide and conquer

Wednesday night’s program was also designed to reassure Russians that not all Wagner fighters were traitors and mutineers — with his war effort stuttering, Putin can’t afford to lose tens of thousands of men from the front.

“There were worthy people in Wagner,” Petrov insisted — moments after a diatribe about Prigozhin recruiting some of Russia’s worst criminals into the mercenary army’s ranks.

“The majority!” cut in “60 Minutes” host Yevgeny Popov. “The majority of people acted heroically, took cities, served in good faith … and bought their freedom with blood.”

“What’s absolutely clear: Prigozhin is a traitor,” Popov continued. “But Wagnerites — the majority of them are heroic people who with guns in hand defended our motherland. And many of them were lied to.”

Referring to Prigozhin’s Concord catering company and other businesses that Putin admitted were fully funded by the Russian state, Popov said the warlord had received “billions in contracts.”

And seeking to cleave Prigozhin’s men from their exiled boss, Petrov said: “The question is whether this money reached the fighters and heroes of Wagner!”

Translation: Watch your back, Yevgeny.



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