EU co-legislators reached a provisional deal on new rules to make election and referenda campaigns more transparent and resistant to interference.
The new rules will regulate political advertisements, notably online ads, while also providing for a framework for political actors to advertise more easily across the EU.
Commenting after the deal was struck between Parliament and Spanish Presidency negotiators, lead MEP Sandro Gozi (Renew, FR) said: “This is a major step in protecting our elections and achieving digital sovereignty in the EU. Citizens will be able to easily spot political advertising online and who stands behind it. The new rules will make it harder for foreign actors to spread disinformation and interfere in our free and democratic processes. We also secured a favourable environment for transnational campaigning in time for the next European Parliament elections”.
Greater transparency and accountability
Political advertising will have to be clearly labelled. Under the new rules, it will be easier for citizens, authorities and journalists to obtain information on who is financing an advert, their place of establishment, the amount paid, and the origin of the financing, among other details.
On Parliament’s insistence, 24 months after the rules enter into force, a publicly accessible repository will be set up by the Commission containing all online political advertisements and related information, for up to seven years.
Tackling foreign interference
To limit non-EU sponsors from interfering in European democratic processes, MEPs managed to include a ban on third country entities from sponsoring political advertising in the EU in the three-month period before an election or referendum.
Regulating targeting strategies
Under the agreement, only the personal data explicitly provided for the purpose of online political advertising and collected from the subject can be used by providers to target users. Political advertisements based on profiling using special categories of personal data (e.g. ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation) would also be prohibited. Parliament introduced other provisions to further regulate targeting, such as a ban on using minors’ data.
Internal communications, such as newsletters from political parties, foundations or other non-profit bodies to their members, are not considered political advertising and will not be subject to additional privacy rules.
Protecting freedom of expression
The agreed rules only concern remunerated political advertisements. Personal views, political opinions, such as any unsponsored journalistic content, or communications on the organisation of elections (e.g. announcements of candidates or promoting participation) by official national or EU sources are not impacted.
Sanctions for infringements
The agreed text introduces the potential for periodic penalties to be levied for repeated violations. In line with the Digital Services Act, sanctions can go up to 6% of the annual income or turnover of an ad provider.
Council and Parliament still need to formally adopt the agreement before the rules enter into force. The rules will apply 18 months after the entry into force, while the measures on the non-discriminatory provision of cross-border political advertising (including for European political parties and political groups) will already apply for the European Parliament elections in 2024.