With less than 100 days before the European elections, the national election network representatives of the EU-27, along with members of the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) met in Brussels on February 28 to discuss measures that will guarantee the legitimacy of the May poll.
The discussions focused on data protection rules and the ability to track the origins and funding for paid political advertising.
The Commission zeroed in on how to better track the activities of certain outside entities that are tied to political campaigns and how they then disseminate information through the media and online platforms.
According to the EU’s Commissioner for Justice Věra Jourová any differences of opinion between the members of the bloc “should not create loopholes for potential malicious actors to try to interfere with and manipulate elections, especially for the European Parliament in 2019. The priority for the various EU governments should be now to set up a comprehensive structure to deal with the risks and take appropriate measures to protect the electoral process while at the same time making sure that European citizens are well informed.”
Around half of the members of the European Union have transparency laws for paid political ads, while most of the bloc has some rules that set limits for campaign financing and provide legal mechanisms for auditing the expenditures of political campaigns. What they lack, however, is a uniform set of rules that apply to the online activities of certain political operatives.
Guaranteed transparency when it comes to campaign financing is vital to ensure that advertising of a political nature is subject to full disclosure in order to better monitor where the information is coming from and how it is targeting the electorate in the run-up to an election.
The Commission and the EEAS have put forward a set of short-term solutions that include the promotion of enhanced transparency for political parties, foundations and campaign organisations, as well as campaign and advertising service providers.
Included in the list of measures is a scheme to monitor and audit campaign donations. This is seen as a key tool to guarantee transparency among political foundations, campaign organisations, civil society organisations, and paid social media influencers. The EU has said that focusing only on parties would leave enough space for certain individuals or parties to circumvention the bloc’s electoral rules.
Online platforms will also be scrutinised and should be obliged to make available digital tools that enable citizens to identify online advertising as being political in nature. The active tools would also make it possible for users to flag material that violates campaign norms.
The bloc’s members will need to further clarify the scope of their monitoring activities before the election season begins and also ensure that the national authorities in charge have the means to perform their monitoring duties. This will be achieved by opening up clear communication channels with internet platforms and online media to help enforcement, internet platforms, and social media companies operating in the EU respect and apply rules that are specific to each individual European country.
Cooperation with Europol, the EU’s law enforcement cooperation agency, will help with the overall support that is needed to carry out effective monitoring and cooperation between law enforcement authorities. The hope is that this will help detect any involvement of criminal elements or outside governments who are engaging in cybercrimes that could endanger the integrity of the elections.