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13th Apr 2024

MEPs adopt new transparency rules for political ads

  • MEPs have approved a three-month ban on foreign advertising ahead of June's EU elections. Other measures will have to wait until 2025 (Photo: Jorge Franganillo)
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MEPs adopted on Tuesday (27 February) new rules on transparency and targeting of political advertising, but they won't kick in before the EU elections.

The legislation on political advertising, which was backed by MEPs, 470 in favour to 50 against and 105 abstentions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, is designed to make election and referendum campaigns across the EU more transparent and resistant to foreign interference. National governments are expected to sign off the text in the coming days, clearing the final hurdle to allow it to become law.

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The file is one of a series of EU laws aimed at combating foreign interference from the likes of Russia and China, tackling disinformation and increasing transparency in political campaigns, following scandals involving data mining firms such as the now defunct Cambridge Analytica.

The European Commission had wanted the regulation to be in place before this year's elections of the European Parliament. However, negotiations on the law have taken longer than initially expected and the new rules are set to come into effect in September 2025.

Those include a requirement for all political advertising and related information to be stored in a public online repository, a provision designed to allow individuals, journalists and activists to be able to find out whether they are being targeted with an ad, who is paying for it, how much is being paid, and to which elections or referendum it is linked.

The repository will be managed by the EU executive.

"In the future we will know who says what and who pays for what. We need it because we need to protect against interference from foreign powers," said Sandro Gozi, the Renew Europe MEP who led parliament's negotiations on the file, at a press conference following the vote on Tuesday.

A former Italian Europe minister who was elected as a centrist MEP in France, Gozi added that the three-month ban on foreign advertising before an election or referendum in the EU was one of the main additions to the file pushed through by MEPs.

Member states will also have the scope to apply longer bans on foreign adverts if they wish.

"We are not naive to think this is a final solution, but it is certainly very important which gives a very strong signal around the world," he said.

Meanwhile, the use of targeting and amplification techniques for online political advertising based on personal data will only be allowed if individuals have explicitly given their consent.

The question of how to define what is "political" was one of the problematic areas throughout the negotiations, with critics warning that the law could be used to stifle freedom of speech. The final text states that political opinions and other editorial content are not considered to be political advertising unless "payment or remuneration is provided for".

This article has been updated to clarify that the three-month ban on foreign advertising will not apply during the EU elections.

EU tightens rules on political advertising — but not until 2025

EU co-legislators have reached a provisional agreement to make election and referendum campaigns more transparent for citizens and more resistant to foreign interference — but few of the rules will come into force in time for the 2024 European elections.

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