EU Parliament adopts position on political advertising regulation – EURACTIV.com
- EU Regulation
- February 2, 2023
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EU lawmakers approved the internal market (IMCO) committee’s text on the Regulation on Political Advertising, paving the way for the next phase of the legislative process.
MEPs on Thursday (2 February) voted in favour of IMCO’s report on the initiative, with none of the amendments tabled at the plenary stage adopted. The measure passed with 433 votes in favour, 61 against and 110 abstentions.
The regulation, originally announced in December 2020 as part of the Commission’s Democracy Action Plan, is intended to increase the transparency of political advertising and tackle the issue of foreign interference in electoral campaigns.
Launched in order to have these protections in place by the spring 2024 European Parliament elections, the proposal will move forward to inter-institutional negotiations as the EU Council of Ministers agreed on its general approach in December.
“This report is essential to complement the actions we are taking to combat all forms of disinformation and foreign interference in our electoral processes,” the file’s rapporteur, MEP Sandro Gozi, told EURACTIV.
“It will also help to remove obstacles to the creation of a true single market in this field and to build a favourable environment for transnational campaigning,” Gozi added. “The elections are close, and we must be ready. The Parliament is ready, we expect the Council to be ready too.”
The text adopted includes several key changes to the Commission’s original proposal.
The draft regulation requires more information about the actors financing advertisements, engagement, who it might have been targeted at and based on what data, and whether it has been suspended for violating any of the regulation’s provisions.
The MEPs enhanced the law’s transparency measures, notably enlarging the role of online repositories containing copies of and information about all political ads published online.
Entities outside of the EU will also be banned from financing political ads under the report to diminish foreign interference in European elections.
When it comes to enforcement, the Parliament’s text strengthens the powers of national regulatory authorities, hands enforcement powers to the European Data Protection Board, and allows the Commission to introduce minimum sanctions.
A measure to establish cross-border cooperation networks was also included to coordinate enforcement action.
Twelve amendments were tabled at the plenary stage by three political groups: the conservative ECR group, The Left, and the far-right ID. Changes put forward by the right-wing European People’s Party, seen by EURACTIV, were eventually dropped, and none of those put forward by the other groups was adopted.
One aspect of the initiative that caused significant controversy was the prohibition on targeting and ad delivery based on special categories of personal data defined under the General Data Protection Regulation, such as race, religion or political opinions.
Under the changes, microtargeting will be prohibited, and advertisers will only be able to use personal data explicitly provided by individuals for this purpose. Targeting using minors’ data was also banned.
The issue of personal data was largely the responsibility of the civil liberties committee (LIBE), traditionally more privacy-friendly. Eventually, LIBE’s text was fully incorporated in IMCO’s, to the disgruntlement of some right-to-centre lawmakers who saw it as going too far and potentially threatening parties’ internal communication with voters.
Dissent over this provision also came from within Gozi’s own political group, the liberal Renew, where three MEPs abstained from the committee vote.
Explaining her decision, one of the Renew lawmakers, MEP Svenja Hahn, said that the committee’s compromise “overshoots the mark”, arguing that targeting is an “important part of the democratic opinion-forming process”.
By contrast, restricting the use of personal data for online ads is a flagship initiative of a group of progressive lawmakers who only found partial satisfaction in the recently adopted Digital Services Act.
“Restricting microtargeting for political advertising means increasing freedom of expression – because all voters know what kind of messages parties send out and what they stand for,” said Green MEP Alexandra Geese.
The proposal will now progress to trilogue negotiations with the Commission and Council. The general approach of the EU Council focuses on legal certainty and ensuring additional transparency through the similar provision of additional information alongside ads.
It also includes parallel efforts to ban targeting and amplification based on sensitive personal data, which would be allowed only in cases of consent given specifically for political advertising purposes. Similarly, it includes a prohibition on the processing of minors.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Nathalie Weatherald]