EU to push ahead on data protection despite UK opposition

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SPECIAL REPORT / The European Commission is set to ignore attempts to delay the implementation of a proposed new data protection regulation (DPR) suggested at last week’s EU summit, claiming that the meeting's conclusions have been misinterpreted.

EurActiv has learned that the EU executive instead believes that a mandate to push forward with new rules by spring next year remains possible, and that this can be achieved even in the face of strong opposition from the UK.

Last week saw a tussle over the wording of the European Council conclusions – before the summit started – with the Commission calling for the DPR to be completed by “spring 2014”.

>> Read: Data protection: France, UK lead rival camps at summit

The move is seen as critical since delaying the agreement of new rules until later next year risks passing the dossier to new commissioners who will take up their posts at the beginning of 2015.

Conclusions suggested delay until 2015

Many analysts believe that the proposed DPR would need to be redrafted from scratch by a new Commission, leaving the current proposal effectively wasted.

The final conclusions adopted last week suggested that the DPR should be introduced “by 2015”. Indeed France’s president, François Hollande, told a post-summit briefing that the new wording meant that the new rules should be in place by the beginning of that year.

The French president put a positive gloss on the delay, claiming that some countries had been calling for the DPR to be introduced “as soon as possible”. Since such a formulation was meaningless, he said, it was far better to have a firm date than none.

EU sources have told EurActiv, however, that the wording of the conclusions leaves open the opportunity to introduce the DPR earlier than 2015.

Leaders agreed: “The timely adoption of a strong EU General Data Protection framework and the Cyber-security Directive is essential for the completion of the Digital Single Market by 2015.”

EU sources said that this meant that the single market for telecommuications should be in place by 2015, but left the data protection paper to be adoptd in a ‘timely’ way.

Senior EU sources told EurActiv that only the UK – with the support of Sweden – opposed the swift introduction of the DPR.

UK and Sweden isolated?

A senior EU official told EurActiv on condition of anonymity that British Prime Minister David Cameron had fought hard for the 2015 date, and began the summit negotiations arguing that it would be better to have no deadline at all.

“If the DPR is now pushed forward the situation will not be like the European Council, where a compromise was reached, but will be carried out according to qualified majority voting, and the UK and Sweden alone will not be able to hold the paper up,” said the EU source.

The Commission believes that on a qualified majority vote, the paper could be adopted by the ministers by next spring, even in the face of UK and Swedish opposition, since on a qualified majority vote these two countries could not combine to veto it.

Lawmakers in the European parliament’s civil liberties committee voted last week Monday (21 October) to strengthen Europe's data protection laws, including plans to impose fines of up to €100 million on companies such as Yahoo!, Facebook or Google if they break the rules.

The Parliament, and Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, have consistently tied the need for stronger data protection to acknowledge alleged privacy abuses arising from information leaked by former US espionage contractor Edward Snowden.

Timeline: 
  • Spring 2014: Commission believes it could achieve agreement on data protection regulation by this date
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