The bloc was plunged into fresh crisis last week after the New York Times claimed China had tried to block the release of the report, subsequently forcing EU officials to delay and then re-write this before its release. An unnamed senior official told colleagues in an email seen by the newspaper: “The Chinese are already threatening with reactions if the report comes out.” Speaking at a specially convened meeting of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insisted the report had not been watered down as a result of pressure from China.
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He insisted the content and the European External Action Service’s (EEAS) public assessment on disinformation and the pandemic had been determined by that body alone.
The EU’s chief diplomat said: “We have not bowed to anyone. There was no watering down of our findings, however uncomfortable it could be.”
Mr Borrell also claimed at the specially convened meeting there had been confusion about two separate reports.
These were a confidential one solely intended for diplomats, and another for the public that was released last Friday by the EU’s monitoring website, EU vs Disinfo.
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The EU foreign policy chief said: “Don’t make the mistake that the second one is the first one with a little bit of change.”
But several MEPs have been left unconvinced by this attempted explanation from Mr Borrell, and are demanding further action be taken.
Belgian liberal Hilde Vautmans said the first statement from Spain’s former foreign minister was incomplete and urged him to release earlier drafts of the disinformation report.
Nathalie Loiseau, one of Emmanuel Macron’s closest allies in the European Parliament, praised the report from the EEAS as “impactful”.
But she was angered as it did not reference false claims from Chinese diplomats about France.
A Chinese embassy website had alleged 80 politicians from France had signed a statement using a racist slur to denigrate the head of the World Health Organization.
Mr Borrell attempted to defend this omission and said it was instead considered to fall into the “bullying by a diplomatic mission” as opposed to disinformation in open sources.
The EU’s chief diplomat added “we’re not trying to hide anything” as the case had been widely reported by the world’s media.
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But the former Spanish foreign minister had a final warning for MEPs, telling them not to “weaken the institution”.
He claimed he only first found out about the row when he read it in the newspapers last Friday, but lashed out at MEPs for adding more ammunition to the member of staff who had leaked emails to the New York Times.
Mr Borrell told European ministers: “Please be serious.
“Why a single leak of a single member of the staff presenting their own impressions is more important than the whole work of the people there and my personal political commitment.
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“Don’t weaken the institution.”
China has been widely accused by countries throughout the world of hiding information about the initial coronavirus outbreak, which is alleged to have originated from the city of Wuhan towards the end of last year.
Donald Trump has lashed out several times on this matter, and on Thursday claimed he was confident the killer virus may have originated in a virology lab in the Chinese city.
But the US President declined to describe the evidence he had allegedly seen.
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