Disclosure of sources of origin and funding is crucial: How German political consultants view the planned EU rules on political advertising

For Dominik Meier, chairman of the German Association for Political Consultants (de’ge’pol), it is important “that the EU is now discussing political campaign communication and transparent funding in times of digital transformation.” However, he also points out that the legislative process is still at the beginning.

The EU Commission has presented a proposal for regulations on political advertising, electoral rights, and party funding. In your view, how urgent is the need for action in this area?

Electoral processes are dynamic-transformative processes. Through their electoral choices, the electorate establishes conditions under which they are represented. Through their legislation, the elected in turn change the social conditions under which electoral decisions take place. Democracies have thus developed very different electoral traditions despite comparable constitutions based on the rule of law. Against this background, it is difficult to determine the respective need for action. The US, for example, have developed a completely different approach to political campaign funding than the Europeans. Therefore, it is now very important for the EU to discuss political campaign communication and transparent funding in times of digital transformation. The EU proposal establishes common, binding transparency criteria and aims to stabilize the functioning of liberal democratic legal systems.

The proposal includes clear labeling of political adverts. What do you think of the proposed rules for this?

The EU Commission provides for labeling requirements for so-called political advertising services. Every political advertisement must be labeled with a highlighted and clear statement that must include extensive information like the sponsor’s name, the period of publication, the amount spent on the ad, the sources of funds used, and a link between the ad and the relevant elections. After weighing the legitimate public need for information against the legitimate interest in secrecy of political actors, the EU Commission has decided in favor of the public demand for information. This is a positive development. Whether all this information really needs to be collected is already causing considerable debate. For me, the decisive factor is the disclosure of the sources of origin and funding. This will make the political authorship of a political ad itself a subject of reflection for society.

The Commission is planning requirements for targeting and amplification. What do you think about that?

The EU Commission has even proposed a more far-reaching regulation. It aims to ban targeting and amplification procedures that involve processing sensitive personal data such as ethnic origin, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. These procedures may only be applied with the explicit consent of a data subject. If they are applied, they must include a transparency notice. This is a significant step because election advertising has not been thoroughly regulated in Germany, for example. Instead, limits on election advertising were derived from the legal status of political parties, freedom of choice, the principle of democracy, and freedom of opinion. The central point is now the consent of the person concerned. In this way, the EU Commission is consistently pursuing the normative logic already laid down in the General Data Protection Regulation: personal data may only be collected and processed with the data subject’s consent.

What should still be included in the final regulations – and what should not?

The legislative process is only at the beginning. We are now waiting for the first reading of the EU Parliament and Council proposal. The Commission has set the bar high. But the minimum bar will certainly include information about the sources of origin and funding of political advertising and the active consent of the data subject for all forms of targeting.

 

The German version of the interview was published online on 21 January, 2022 at meinungsbarometer.info: Die Veröffentlichung der Ursprungs- und Finanzierungsquellen ist entscheidend | MEINUNGSBAROMETER.INFO – DAS FACHDEBATTENPORTAL