The European Commission has urged Member States to exercise vigilance and transparency in the face of attempts to disrupt free and fair elections in Europe.
Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, has written to the political parties intending to put forward candidates for May’s European Parliament elections reminding them to prepare for cyberattacks, adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); and exercise transparency when publishing political advertisements. Concern has abounded in the buildup to the elections over disinformation and the potential of coordinated online attacks by hostile entities; and the European Council issued its own recommendations to ensure the security of the elections in February this year.
Commisisoner Jourová said: “Our elections and ultimately our democracies are challenged by new threats. Today, I call on all political parties to play their part in securing free and fair elections. Voters deserve transparency to make an informed choice. Online political advertising should be as transparent as the advertising you receive in your mailbox or on the market. Political parties also need to secure their networks to prevent cyberattacks and fully respect data protection rules. I expect all political actors to take their responsibility; at the same time the new sanctions introduced will also ensure the rules are respected.”
Having adopted a comprehensive package of measures in September 2018 to promote a free and fair election process, the Commission called on political parties and campaign organisations to implement a range of actions to ensure the unhindered flow of democracy, including:
- Ensuring online paid political advertisements and promotional content are easily recognisable and the body which paid for them is identifiable by readers;
- Publishing information about their online promotional spending on their websites, including the content of online advertisements and what targeting criteria are used; and
- Making paid online communications and advertising content available on their websites.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “We know there are forces which are trying to disrupt our societies, meddle in our elections and subvert our democracies. They will most likely step up their malicious activities in the run-up and during the European elections. We cannot be naïve. It’s time we too step up our democratic defences as soon as possible so that people will be better informed, and their data better protected.”
The Commission issued a reminder to political parties and campaigning bodies that they must adhere to the EU’s regulations on user privacy and data protection; and that parties which attempt to flout data protection laws in order to influence the outcome of the elections will face new, more severe sanctions of up to five per cent of the party’s annual budget – any party or campaign found to be in breach of the laws will also be unable to apply for funding from the EU’s budget in the year the sanction is issued. The Commission is set to prepare a report after the elections have been held, examining the implementation and impact of its recommendations.