European lawmakers have reached an agreement on measures to safeguard elections and prevent policy fragmentation within the EU. The rules aim to protect EU elections from foreign interference, banning political ads targeting specific ethnic and religious groups and blocking ads funded by foreign lobbyists leading up to elections.

The regulations, part of the EU’s broader efforts to govern big tech firms, address the modernization of outdated rules for political ads in the online era. The rules prohibit the distribution of ads based on personal characteristics like sexuality, religion, and race, offering special protection to such data under European data protection law. Additionally, non-EU entities are barred from sponsoring political ads three months before an election or referendum. Facebook owner Meta has voluntarily announced additional controls over political ads using AI-generated images, videos, and audio on its platform.

The EU’s Digital Agenda, which includes strict regulations on global tech firms, reflects its commitment to creating a digital single market. Critics argue that lobbying by big tech firms could undermine meaningful electoral debates online, while the EU seeks to prevent a fragmentation of its politics by establishing unified digital political ad rules.

The regulations will also grant people the right to know the funding source and expenditure for political ads, and political advertisers will be restricted from buying voter lists from standard marketing databases. Meta’s rules on AI-generated ads will require clear labeling for media depicting fake people or events.