Commission to present revamped ePrivacy proposal

European Commissioner in charge of internal market, French Thierry Breton. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The European Commission will present a revised ePrivacy proposal as part of the forthcoming Croatian Presidency of the EU, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton announced on Tuesday (3 December), after previous talks failed to produce an agreement among member states.

The revamped measures will be made in a bid to find consensus between EU countries on the ePrivacy regulation which would see tech companies offering messaging and email services subjected to the same privacy rules as telecommunications providers.

The initial Commission proposal had been put forward in January 2017, in a bid to “reinforce trust and security in the digital single market.”

“We’ll have to put a new proposal on the table because I definitely think that everybody wants to do something, but obviously you are not in agreement,” Breton said on Tuesday, appearing in front of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council.

He added, however, that the work done so far would mean that the process would not start completely “from scratch.”

“So, I propose, that, for the next presidency, we will put on the table a new proposal obviously matching all your concerns and interests, because I really think that regarding our fellow citizens, there is an urgent need to move forward.”

The lead committee in the European Parliament, the Civil Liberties Committee, adopted its report in October 2017, as well as the mandate to commence inter-institutional negotiations.

In the Council, however, progress on the ePrivacy regulation has been dogged by disagreements over issues ranging from the inclusion of provisions in the regulation to allow for the detection of child pornography, to consent requirements and rules for the tracking of online activity through the use of cookies.

The ePrivacy text, as it stands, would “weaken the actions which online providers are able to take to tackle the solicitation of child abuse” online, the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, Katrina Williams, said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a number of member states including the Czech Republic, Portugal, Austria and France, had called on the Commission to rethink the proposal.

“We believe that in nominating a new European Commission, it would be preferable to take up the debate again with a new legal draft,” Portugal’s Minister of Infrastructure and Housing, Pedro Nuno Oliviera Santos, said on Tuesday.

ePrivacy talks in the Council have gone through the Maltese, Estonian, Bulgarian, Austrian, Romanian, and Finnish Presidencies since the plans were presented in 2017.

Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, will find it challenging to find a consensus among member states unless the Commission’s new proposal reflects the multifaceted landscape of opinions on the bloc. The country’s State Secretary at the Ministry of the Sea, Transport and Infrastructure got a taste of things to come in Tuesday’s Council meeting, after being asked to chair the gathering in the absence of the Finnish representative – who had to be called back to Helsinki to deal with a domestic political situation.

Nevertheless, for his part, Breton is confident that he can find common ground between member states.  “You can count on me to find consensus between each of us,” he said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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