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Online political advertising: everything you need to know

In November 2021, Vice President and Commissioner for Values and Transparency Jourova presented the European Commission’s proposal for a regulation on the transparency and targeting of political advertising. An agreement on the final text was reached almost 2 years later, in November 2023.

The Regulation is a stepping stone towards ensuring fair and transparent online campaigning and should fill the regulatory gap which threatens electoral integrity through voter manipulation, intransparent campaigning and disinformation campaigns. On this webpage, we will share information on the legislative process and implementation, and collect the most relevant research and positions on the legislative file.

Key information on the legislation

Who is affected? Political parties, candidates and foundations, civil society campaigners using ads, online platforms, data brokers and publishers of political ads.

What does the proposal regulate? It puts forward transparency obligations and some targeting restrictions for online ads considered political. It also defines ‘political advertising’.

Where are we in the legislative process? After the European Commission has published its proposal, the European Parliament and the Member States in the Council of EU have developed their respective positions. On this basis, the co-legislators have reached an agreement on the final text on 6 November 2023. The implementation will be phased and will start over the course of 2024.

What you should know

Why is the EU proposing regulation on online political ads?

Under the chapter on “A new push for European democracy” of her Political Guidelines, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stressed the need to regulate digital platforms as a way to protect European democracies from external interference and destabilisation. This is further elaborated in the European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP), where the Commission elaborated on why a Regulation on Political Advertising is needed and provided an initial indication of the transparency measures expected in such a regulation.

In the context of the elaboration of the EDAP, a public consultation was conducted. The results of the consultation showed that EU citizens want and ambitious regulation of political advertising online to enhance transparency and restrict unfair practices, as:

  • 91% of the respondents indicated that they want disclosure rules at the EU level for political ads;
  • 90% want the creation of open and transparent political advertisements archives and registries that show all the targeted political content, as well as data on who paid for it and how much;
  • 90% want political parties that run adds to disclose their campaign finances broken down by media outlet; and
  • 83% would like to see restrictions to micro-targeting, with roughly 70% of the respondents favouring strict limitations to micro-targeting.

Who are the key policy-makers on the file in the Parliament?

Leading Committee:

IMCO (Internal Market and Consumer Protection)


Sandro GOZI | RENEW (FR)

Shadow rapporteurs:

Pablo ARIAS ECHEVERRÍA |  EPP (ES), Maria-Manuel LEITÃO-MARQUES | S&D (PT), Alexandra GEESE | Greens/EFA (DE) and Stelios KOULOGLOU | GUE/NGL (EL)

Who are the key policy-makers on the file in the Council?

Council configuration:

General Affairs Configuration (GAC)

Working Party:

General Affairs Working Party, Chaired by the Spanish Presidency until December 2023, then Belgian Presidency as of January 2024

What are the key issues at stake?


For oversight and public scrutiny of campaigning, you need full transparency on the spending and advertising activities of political parties and actors (like influencers or fake NGOs) advertising on behalf of political parties. The principle of transparency itself is not controversial, but the exact measures needed to provide the necessary transparency remain debated. One of the key ideas is advertising libraries for public scrutiny in combination with meaningful ad transparency notices at individual ad level.


The harms of hyper-targeted messages, the fragmentation of public discourse, and the disenfranchisement of the right to information of people not targeted by an ad are some of the key concerns with targeting. The proposal puts forward some modest limitations on the use of data for targeting, and imposes additional transparency requirements. In civil society and the Parliament, some are calling for a full ban on targeted political ads. Others want to restrict targeting to only age, language and location. Others insist on regulating the amplification of ads, in addition to transparency and restrictions on targeting.


What is a political ad? It makes sense to include ads from political parties, candidates and anyone receiving money or support from these political actors, but how far do you want to go in regulating non-traditional actors, like civil society? The Commission proposal casts a wide net, to capture as much campaigning as possible that is not commercial in nature. Civil society organisations warn against such an approach, as this will limit a lot of grassroots awareness raising and fundraising activities. It is a fine balance to strike!

Enforcement and sanctions

With 27 Member States with each a different set-up of electoral authorities, data protection authorities and digital market regulators, enforcement will not be straightforward. The Commission counts on the GDPR and DSA enforcement structures and proposes guidelines for sanctions, but stays short of proposing minimum sanctions. Some of the ideas on the table are the introduction of minimum sanctions, a European-wide coordinating body, or even a European regulator. As electoral matters are politically sensitive, this discussion is expected to become heated.

Our publications on online political ads


  • Ali, M., Sapiezynski, P., Korolova, A., Mislove, A. & Rieke, A. (2021), Ad Delivery Algorithms: The Hidden Arbiters of Political Messaging, here.
  • Bayer, J. (2020), Double harm to voters: data-driven micro-targeting and democratic public discourse, here.
  • Council of Europe (2020), Regulation of Political advertising – a comparative study with reflections on the situation in South-East Europe, here.
  • Council of Europe (2017), Internet and electoral campaigns: Study on the use of internet in electoral campaigns, here.
  • Dobber, T. & Ó Fathaigh, R. & Zuiderveen Borgesius, F. J. (2019), The regulation of online political micro-targeting in Europe. Internet Policy Review, 8(4), here.
  • ERGA (2020), ERGA Report on disinformation: Assessment of the implementation of the Code of Practice, here.
  • European Court of Human Rights (2018), Article 10 Expression and advertising of political positions through the media/Internet in the context of elections/referendums, here.
  • European Parliament Research Service (2020), Foreign interference in democracies. Understanding the threat, and evolving responses, here.
  • E.Simon & J. Galaski (2021), Solutions for regulating targeted political advertising on online platforms, here.
  • INGE Committee (2021), Investing in destabilisation: How foreign money is used to undermine democracy in the EU,  here.
  • International IDEA (2020), Online political advertising and microtargeting: The latest legal, ethical, political and technological evolutions, here.
  • Julian Jaursch (2021), How new, binding EU transparency standards for political advertising could be even higher (EurActiv), here.
  • National Intelligence Council (2021), Foreign threats to the 2020 US Federal Elections, here.
  • Panoptykon Foundation, Who (really) targets you? Facebook in Polish election campaigns, here.
  • Privacy International (2021), Online political Ads: A study of inequality in transparency standards, here.
  • Solutions for regulating targeted political advertising on online platforms, here.
  • Stiftung Neue Verantwortung (2020), Defining Online Political Advertising, here.
  • Transparency International (2021), Paying for views: Solving transparency and accountability risks in online political advertising, here.
  • Who Targets Me? (2020), What are we to do about microtargeting?, here.