Never again! EU makes move to stop another Brexit-style referendum in bloc

President of EU commission is 'showing claws' says expert

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Announcing the EU Commission’s new measures, Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová said: “We have seen too many examples of the risks stemming from the digital realm… like the Brexit referendum.”

Former Brexit Minister David Jones MP, commenting on the proposals to Express.co.uk, said: “It is quite clear that the outcome of the referendum – the biggest and most successful democratic exercise in British history – has come as a severe shock to Brussels, which obviously regards it as a threat to the integrity of the EU.”

Ms Jourová’s statement was part of the Commission’s announcement of a series of new legal proposals which will affect political campaigning across the bloc – both online and in the print media.

The new rules may also severely affect the ability of UK campaigning organisations and politicians to support independence movements in EU member countries, starting from Spring 2023.

In commenting on the Brexit referendum and other events such as the Capitol Hill demonstrations following the US elections in which Donald Trump was defeated, EU Commissioner Jourová described the package as “a reaction to these events and also to loopholes identified in our systems”.

The new measures relate mostly to political advertising but encompass promotional activities by politicians and campaign groups where any funding is involved.

The most innovative piece of this package is referred to by the EU as “the political adverts regulation”.

Ms Jourova said: “It has never been done before. Our aim is to put order in the world of political advertising, especially online.”

The main measures set out in the proposed regulation were outlined in an EU Commission communication.

This said: “Political ads will cover ads by, for, or on behalf of a political actor as well as so-called issue-based ads which are liable to influence the outcome of an election or referendum, a legislative or regulatory process or voting behaviour.”

In its explanatory notes, the Commission defines ‘political advertising’ as meaning “the preparation, placement, promotion, publication or dissemination by any means, of a message”.

Everyone involved in political campaigning – whether a PR company or an online platform – will have to abide by the new rules. This will also cover actors outside of the production chain, including politicians, political parties and campaign organisations.

The Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, goes on to say: “Since advertisements by, for, or on behalf of a political actor cannot be detached from their activity in their role as political actor, they will be presumed to be liable to influence the political debate.”

The new regulations contain elements that are unlikely to be contentious when they come before the EU Parliament, as they relate to the transparency of political donations.

However, some parts of the proposed new laws and directives may be contested by the Eurosceptic parties.

The Commission’s new laws will not prohibit the public from seeing messages in the future, but they will make it more difficult for any campaigning groups such as the Eurosceptic movements across the bloc to promote their messages to the public.

Mr Jones added to Express.co.uk: “While it is certainly legitimate to seek to ensure transparency in online campaigning, it is perturbing to see the Commission admit that these onerous new regulations are prompted by the experience of the Brexit referendum in the UK.

“It is quite clear that the outcome of the referendum – the biggest and most successful democratic exercise in British history – has come as a severe shock to Brussels, which obviously regards it as a threat to the integrity of the EU.

“The new rules are calculated to act as a deterrent to campaigners, particularly smaller groups, which will not have the resources to deal with them.

“This overbearing approach serves only to highlight the nervousness of the EU in the face of popular democracy.”

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The Commission stipulates onerous conditions, with a long list of information to be recorded for every political message.

Finally the Commission says: “Publishers of political adverts will need to ensure that this additional information about the targeting of political advertising they publish is included in the transparency notices they make available with the political advertisement.”

Fines will be applied by member countries where political messaging is deemed to have contravened the new regulations, says the EU Commission.

The proposals will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council before they become law.

The Commission says their aim is “for the new rules to enter into force and be fully implemented by member states by spring 2023, i.e. one year before the [next EU Parliament] elections”.

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