Transparency and targeting of political advertising: EU co-legislators strike deal on new regulation

The Council presidency and European Parliament negotiators have reached a provisional agreement on the main political elements of a new regulation on the transparency and targeting of political advertising.

The regulation has been drawn up amid concerns about the dangers posed by information manipulation and foreign interference in elections. It aims to make it easy for citizens to recognise political advertisements, understand who is behind them and know whether they have received a targeted advertisement, so that they are better placed to make informed choices.

It will support an open and fair political debate in member states, based on objective, transparent and pluralistic information, and ensure that political advertising takes place in full respect of fundamental rights, including the right to privacy.

Scope of the new rules

Under the provisional agreement, political advertising is defined as the preparation, placement, promotion, publication, delivery or dissemination of messages:

  • by, for or on behalf of political actors, unless they are of a purely private or a purely commercial nature; or
  • which are liable and designed to influence voting behaviour or the outcome of an election, referendum, or a legislative or regulatory process, at EU, national, regional or local level

The new regulation will cover political advertising that is normally provided for remuneration, but also political advertising through in-house activities, such as the preparation of political advertisements within political parties, and as part of a political advertising campaign.

At the same time, the rules make it clear that political views and other content under editorial responsibility and also views expressed in a personal capacity are not captured by the regulation.

Rules on targeting and ad delivery

The provisionally agreed rules also place strict limits on the use of targeting and ad delivery techniques.

The use of personal data for targeting political advertising online will be permitted only if the data was collected from the data subject, who has given explicit and separate consent for its use for political advertising.

In addition, there will be a blanket ban on profiling using special categories of personal data, such as data revealing racial or ethnic origin or political opinions.

Other provisions

To prevent foreign interference, the EU co-legislators have also agreed to ban the provision of advertising services to third country sponsors three months before an election or referendum, whilst safeguarding stricter national rules where relevant.

They have provided that the Commission should set up a European public repository for online political advertisements to bring together and make publicly available information on all online advertisements and their transparency notices.

The EU co-legislators have also agreed that the new rules will apply 18 months after their entry into force. However, the definitions and the so-called non-discrimination clause, which stipulates that services cannot be restricted solely based on place of residence or establishment of the sponsor of political advertising, will apply in time for the EP elections.

Next steps

Work will continue at technical level in the coming weeks to finalise the details of the new regulation.

Once this work has been concluded, the full agreement will need to be confirmed by both institutions in their entirety and undergo legal-linguistic revision before formal adoption.