EU parliament votes for tougher rules on online political ads


The European parliament adopted on Tuesday new rules to increase transparency in online political advertising, but many of the measures will be too late to have an impact on the June EU elections.

The new measures are designed to avoid abuses, manipulation and, as several countries have started to adopt laws in this area, ensure uniform legislation across the EU.

Under the new regulation, which passed with a majority of 470 votes to 50 and 105 abstentions, online political ads will have to be clearly labelled as such. Citizens will be able to see why they were targeted, who paid for the ad and where they are based, what was the cost and to which elections or referendums it refers.

Digital platforms will have to obtain separate and explicit consent to use personal data for targeted political ads. Profiling based on ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or minors’ data will be prohibited for the targeting of online political advertising.

Amid concerns about disinformation and foreign interference in elections, new rules also ban ads from outside the EU in the three months before an election or referendum.

Sanctions for violation of such measures will be up to 6% of the annual turnover of an ad provider.

“This year half of the world population will go to the ballot box, including in the June  European elections,” said Paul Tang, an MEP from the Dutch Labour party. “It is not just politicians and political parties campaigning. Systems of automated bots and factories of trolls are already there to engage… trying to manipulate the public debate and tilt it to the preference of their often foreign clients.”

Tang however added that new rules still “fall short of protecting our democracy and securely fair elections” as “mere transparency” is not enough.

Under the new regulation, the commission will set up a repository for political ads and related information that will be accessible to the public for up to seven years.

To ensure freedom of expression, the rules will only apply to paid political advertisements and will not affect their content or the financing of political campaigns.

Personal views, political opinions, un-sponsored journalistic content, internal communications such as party newsletters, or communications about participation in elections by official sources will not be affected.

Far right

But several MEPs from far-right parties voted against arguing new rules will limit freedom of speech.

Only the European Council now needs to formally adopt the text. The rules will apply from 2025, but some measures will apply in time for the European elections.

These include the definition of political advertising, which excludes practical communications by EU institutions on the elections. In 2014, some platforms had banned political advertising on their services including ads from the institutions themselves.

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