Daniel Freund

2. February 2023 Transparency

Stop hate online: European Parliament wants to make political advertising transparent

The European Parliament today voted in favour of more transparency in political advertising (433 yes, 61 no, 110 abstentions). Rules on transparency and data protection should protect elections from manipulative advertising from non-transparent financing.

In order to stop covertly financed campaigns of hate and agitation in filter bubbles, Parliament decides:

  • for all political advertising, it must be disclosed who commissions and finances it.
  • There will be an EU-wide public online register for this purpose, big platforms like Google and Facebook will have to post data in real time.
  • Advertising must no longer use sensitive data (targeting), e.g. ethnic origin, political opinion, religion, sexual orientation, state of health.
  • 60 days before elections, recipients may only be sorted by language and place of residence; online advertising would thus become as public as posters again.

Our proposal for an EU-wide transparency database is now a parliamentary position. Negotiations with the Council will start soon. We want to reach an agreement in time for the European elections in 2024. In doing so, we want to push through the more far-reaching transparency and data protection rules and the public database against the weaker position of the Council.

Covert funding by Putin for right-wing extremists has also been revealed in recent days in luxurious invitations. Under the pressure of the corruption scandal, MEPs reported invitations by third parties. Right-wingers and extreme right-wingers let themselves be invited by Putin on flights and luxury hotels, e.g. to Moscow. This shows where money for online advertising campaigns probably came from.

Daniel Freund (MEP, Greens), negotiator in the Constitutional Committee for the regulation on transparency of political advertising, comments:

“Whether Swiss billionaires or the Kremlin: with this proposal, the German right-wing extremists of AfD would also have to disclose where the money for its campaigns and online advertising comes from. Transparency for opinion campaigns makes our democracy more resilient against the dangers of autocrats’ money. EU governments in the Council must abandon their opposition to an EU-wide transparency database and these data protection rules to protect the 2024 European elections from manipulation.

It is essential for democracy that citizens know who is trying to convince them with campaigns. Transparency protects public debate from being poisoned. We need a lively debate about the best answer to the most pressing problems.”

In 2018, the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that the data firm used innocent online games to access the most personal data of millions of social media users. From this, the company profiled users, allowing them to know whether they were white or black, gay or straight, religious or not, what people were afraid of, whether they were depressed. Political adverts that raised fears about immigrants, political elites or conspiracy narratives were targeted at the most susceptible voters in order to create sentiment for Brexit in the UK and Trump in the US. In the US, black voters were targeted and demobilised in order to decide close constituencies for extreme Trump supporters. Because money from non-transparent donors did not flow to the parties but directly into political advertising, party donation rules were circumvented.

Transparency for opinion campaigns makes our democracy more resilient against the dangers of autocrats' money.


35,000 lobbyists are attempting to influence EU laws. Commissioners switch position into the private sector. MPs work as lobbyists on a part-time basis. From my time at Transparency International I know that the EU is still better than the member states in many respects.  However, there is also a need for far more transparency in the EU.