EU Commissioner: No money for border fences

Brussels (APA) – EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson has rejected Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer‘s demand for funding to extend the fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border. There is “no money in the EU budget for this, so if we spend money on walls and fences, there will be no money for other things,” Johansson said before an informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Stockholm on Thursday. Interior Minister Gerhard Karner renewed the demand.

Many countries at the external borders needed help, Karner emphasized in view of his recent on-site visit to the Bulgarian-Turkish border. “I think that many countries would be interested in making this external border protection more robust,” Karner said. This would require the support of the EU Commission “in various respects”, for example for technical equipment, but also ” with regard to the fences.”

Nehammer and Karner had traveled to the Bulgarian-Turkish border at the beginning of the week. Austria vetoed the Schengen accession of Bulgaria and Romania in December because of illegal migration. The chancellor called for investments in border protection, a reduction in seizures of unregistered migrants as well as speedy procedures and more readmission agreements. Two billion euros would be necessary to expand the border fence, Nehammer said in Bulgaria. (January 26)

Ministry: EU Commission preliminarily agrees to livestock farming labels

Berlin (dpa) – According to its own information, the German Federal Ministry of Agriculture has been given the preliminary green light by Brussels for a planned livestock farming label for meat in supermarkets. “The EU Commission has examined the draft law for binding livestock farming labels in Germany in principle,” the ministry announced on Wednesday. The Commission had not expressed any reservations during this procedure. The review is intended to ensure that the regulation complies with EU law and is compatible with the principles of the internal market.

The labeling is to be launched for consumers in 2023, starting with fresh pork. The labeling system will assign five categories, depending on how the animal is reared. These will range from compliance with the legal minimum standards in the stable to organic farming. Meat from abroad may be labeled on a voluntary basis. The bill is currently being discussed in the Bundestag, the German parliament. According to the agricultural ministry, if major changes are made, the EU Commission might have to re-examine the bill. (25 January)

Iran adopts sanctions against Europeans and UK

Tehran (AFP) – On Wednesday, Iran retaliated the recent sanctions from the European Union and the United Kingdom by taking reciprocal measures, more than four months after the start of the protest movement sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini.

Tehran sanctioned 25 individuals and entities from the European Union, among them ten French citizens, including the mayor of Paris, and nine from the United Kingdom, in retaliation to sanctions imposed by the latter on Monday.

The Iranian authorities accuse these persons and entities of “supporting terrorism and terrorist groups,” of“encouragement to terrorist acts and violence against Iranian people” or of “dissemination of false information about Iran,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry explained.

The EU said “these Iranian measures are purely politically motivated,” insisting the European sanctions were “adopted on clear legal grounds”. (January 25)

European Parliament seeks to curb political microtargeting

Brussels (Belga) – Using citizens’ personal data unsolicited to bombard them with tailored political ads? In the run-up to the 2024 European elections, the European Parliament wants to sharply curb such so-called microtargeting.

Microtargeting is a technique where advertisers target their message to a specific audience, based on analysis of their personal data. Someone who profiles as a cycling tourist online could thus be shown advertisements for cycling equipment. The UK campaign surrounding the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential elections made it clear that microtargeting has also taken root in politics, and is susceptible to manipulation.

“We are going to consign misleading online political ads to the past, by making it impossible to still prey on people’s specific weaknesses,” declared Italian MEP Sandro Gozi after the approval in committee of a draft regulation to make the world of political ads more transparent and fortify democratic systems against disinformation and foreign interference.

The text of the draft prohibits the use of certain sensitive personal data, such as ethnic origin, religious affiliation or sexual preference, for targeted political ads, both online and offline. It limits the online use of the technique to four categories of personal data, for which the user has to give explicit consent. The rules will be tightened further in the 60 days prior to elections or referendums, when targeted ads can only be based on location, language and the information that someone is a first-time voter. Microtargeting minors will be banned.

“The era of platforms using huge amounts of data unsolicited to influence voting behavior – or, even worse, to pit groups of people against each other – is coming to an end,” explained Belgian MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere. “In the future, users will be able to decide for themselves which personalized online political ads they want to receive. This will be an important step forward to protect democracy ahead of the European elections in 2024.”

The MEPs also want more information on political ads to be made available to citizens, authorities and journalists. Thus, they are pushing for a new database of political ads and related information. The draft regulation should make it easier to obtain information on who funds a political ad and how much was paid for it and where the money came from. Information should also be published about specific target groups and what personal data was used to target them.

MEPs also intend to sanction and potentially ban individuals or organizations from third countries paying for political advertisements in the European Union. (January 24)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Tuesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.