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5th Mar 2024

EU tightens rules on political advertising — but not until 2025

  • New rules also ban third countries from sponsoring EU political advertising in the three months before elections or referendums (Photo: Unsplash)
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A provisional agreement to make European elections and referendum campaigns more transparent for citizens and more resistant to foreign interference was reached overnight (7 November) by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

The new rules cover paid political advertising and aim to fill a legal gap in the fight against voter manipulation, opaque campaigns, and disinformation, although they will only apply to cross-border campaigns for the 2024 European elections.

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As part of the agreement, offline and online political ads will now have to be labelled as such, and more information will be required about who is funding the advert, the amount of the payment, or the source of the funding.

Personal views, political opinions, unsponsored journalistic content or communications such as announcing candidates or encouraging participation will be excluded from the scope of this legislation.

"Citizens will be able to easily spot political advertising online and who stands behind it", lead MEP Sandro Gozi (Renew Europe) said after the agreement was reached.

The new rules also ban third countries from sponsoring EU political advertising in the three months before elections or referendums.

"The new rules will make it harder for foreign actors to spread disinformation and interfere in our free and democratic processes," Gozi said.

The EU co-legislators also agreed on further restrictions on the use of personal data. They banned political advertising based on profiling using sensitive data such as political views, religion or sexual orientation.

To increase transparency, an EU-wide repository will be set up to store all online political advertising two years after the rules come into force.

In case of repeated infringements, the text provides for the possibility of imposing periodic penalties of up to six percent of the annual revenue or turnover of the ad provider.

But before the rules come into force, some questions need to be answered, according to organisations such as the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA Europe), which fears that vague language could make harmonised implementation difficult.

"It is crucial to provide sufficient clarity in order for political advertising publishers to implement the EU's new ad rules in a proper way, and without harming freedom of expression in electoral processes," CCIA Europe's senior policy manager, Claudia Canelles Quaroni warned.

The technical details of the new regulation will be discussed in the coming weeks to finalise the agreement. Both institutions will then have to formally adopt the agreement.

Once the regulation enters into force, the rules will apply 18 months later [likely spring 2025] — except for cross-border political advertising, which will apply in time for the 2024 EU elections.

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