Digital Brief: The Digital Package Explained

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“In these data we collect…lies an enormous amount of precious ideas, potential innovation, untapped potential we have to unleash.”

– European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Wednesday 19 February.


Digital Package. Yesterday, the Commission presented three important papers aimed at increasing the bloc’s digital clout: Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, A European Strategy for Data, and the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence. Strap yourself in while we unpack the contents for you.


*Also this week*

MFF, Google pulls UK from EU data regime, hate speech in Germany, the Irish DPC report, Digital tax, UK DCMS team, Mastercard Brussels cyber centre.


Data Strategy: Perhaps the paper of most substance is the Commission’s Data Strategy, which Commission President von der Leyen presented on Wednesday, followed by Vice-President Vestager and Internal Market Commissioner Breton. Von der Leyen said that the plans would allow the EU to exploit the “untapped potential” of vast troves of industrial data, allowing public and private actors easy access to huge reserves of information. Many elements of the Commission’s Data Strategy are informed by the Commission’s B2G Data Sharing Expert Group Report which notes the importance of enabling an “environment for privately held data to be shared with public authorities”.

Proposals put forward on Wednesday include the creation of nine common EU data spaces across sectors including heathcare, agriculture and energy, as well as the establishment of a Data Act in 2021, that could “foster business-to-government data sharing for the public interest.”

The document also notes that Article 20 of the GDPR, the right to data portability, could be “enhanced” so as to give individuals “more control over who can access and use machine-generated data.” Read more here.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and his German counterpart, Peter Altmaier, issued a joint statement welcoming the Commission’s data strategy yesterday. ”Germany and France are supporting the European data process through joint initiatives on industrial policy and a European data infrastructure,” said Altmaier, while Le Maire said he expected the new strategy would enable the EU to develop an AI sector that can compete globally.

Artificial Intelligence: The AI White Paper notes that Artificial Intelligence technologies carrying a high-risk of abuse that could potentially lead to an erosion of fundamental rights will be subjected to a series of new requirements.

A series of ‘high-risk’ technologies have been earmarked for future oversight, including those in ‘critical sectors’ and those deemed to be of ‘critical use.’ Those under the critical sectors remit include healthcare, transport, police, recruitment, and the legal system, while technologies of critical use include technologies with a risk of death, damage or injury, or with legal ramifications.

There will be no temporary ban on facial recognition technologies for now, but the Commission will launch an EU-wide debate on the use of remote biometric identification, of which facial recognition technologies are a part. Read more here.

In response to the plans, EURACTIV heard from several EU ministers. Dutch Minister for the Interior, Raymond Knops, welcomed the plans for Artificial Intelligence. “AI gives us a lot of opportunities to innovate, to develop our society and to be competitive, but also deliver services to people from a government perspective,” he told EURACTIV, adding, however, that regulators shouldn’t overlook the potential pitfalls of the technology. “That means that a certain kind of transparency is essential in order to understand what’s happening behind these technologies. This has to do with trust,” he said.

The Estonians were keen to get their point across, too. Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology Kaimar Karu informed EURACTIV that his government is fully behind investing in the future of AI. “Data utilisation, machine learning initiatives, and pragmatic AI applications have the potential to significantly increase the productivity of our economy, and to take our public services to the next level,” he said.

Digital Strategy: In the far-reaching Digital Strategy paper, the EU executive committed itself to fostering ‘Technology that works for the people’ by increasing the digital prowess of European citizens and companies, doubling down on curbing the market power of tech giants and tapping into ICT’s potential for sustainability, EURACTIV’s Philipp Grüll writes.

The document states that “businesses need a framework that allows them to start up, scale up, pool and use data, to innovate and compete or cooperate on fair terms”. The Slovenian Perm Rep to the EU got in touch with EURACTIV with their response to the plans, saying that “the digital transformation of SMEs through the use of data and the artificial intelligence will significantly help to improve business processes and the decarbonation of products and services.”

Reactions. Responses to the Commission’s digital strategy came through thick and fast on Wednesday. Here’s a short compilation of quotes from critics and supporters alike:

Raegan MacDonald, Head of EU Public Policy, Mozilla: “Instead of seeing tech as all the same – which it is not – the EU needs to be clear which companies and what practices and processes should be the focus of intervention.”

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director General of DIGITALEUROPE: We are concerned that attempts to make data sharing mandatory could undermine innovation.”

Helen Smith, Independent Music Companies Association (IMPALA) Executive Chair: “We encourage the commission to move quickly with its planned review of competition rules.” 

Christoph Leitl, President of EUROCHAMBRES: “We see European businesses bearing high compliance costs while their competitors from outside Europe often do not respect these rules at all.”

Christopher Padilla, Vice President for Government & Regulatory Affairs, IBM: “By focusing on precision regulation—applying different rules for different levels of risk—Europe can ensure its businesses and consumers have trust in technology.”

Prof Claus Oetter, Managing Director Software and Digitisation, VDMA: “Almost all AI applications in the industry are completely non-critical. AI in mechanical engineering is therefore a safe bet for success.”

Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). “The objective to help companies compete with big tech should not happen at the cost of consumers’ privacy and autonomy.”

Thomas Boué, Director General, Policy – EMEA at BSA | The Software Alliance. “Today’s strategies help set a clear path forward for companies, governments, and citizens to benefit from responsible, software-powered technologies across Europe.”

Ilias Konteas, Executive Director, EMMA (European Magazine Media Association) & ENPA (European Newspaper Publishers’ Association): “We welcome the announcement of the Commission plans to work on ex-ante regulation.”

Eline Chivot, the Center for Data Innovation: “Its strategy to establish European data spaces…doubles down on policies like data localization, which would force companies to store and process data domestically.”

Diego Naranjo, Head of Policy at European Digital Rights (EDRi): “By driving a human rights-centric digital agenda Europe has the opportunity to continue being the leading voice on data protection and privacy.”

Mike Sax, founder and chairperson of ACT | The App Association: “We appreciate the emphasis on European small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the announced proposal for an industrial strategy package.”

Georgina Kon, TMT partner at Linklaters: “This consultation is a significant opportunity for the EU to understand how it can address the legislative holes and barriers around AI.”

Grégoire Polad, Association of Commercial Television in Europe Director General: “Competition rules should be adapted and potential abuses of dominant positions in online advertising.”

Guido Lobrano, Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) Vice President of Policy for Europe: “For Europe to fully realise its tech leadership potential, it should take a collaborative approach to regulation and avoid prescriptive policies.”

MFF. EU leaders will gather in Brussels today to discuss the EU’s next long-term budget the Multi-annual Financial Framework. Need some explaining? Check out this handy video from EURACTIV’s Bea Rios.

On the digital front, Council President Michel will attempt to convince leaders to back the EU’s digital and climate transitions by mobilizing €500 billion through increasing commitments to the European Investment Bank by €100 billion, €10 billion which would be “paid-in capital” according to leaked council draft conclusions. The Council hopes this could free up €200 billion in lending capacities for transition projects.   

More specifically, expenditure for costs under the single market, innovation and digital remit for the years between 2021 and 2027 will not exceed €150 billion. 

Within this outlay, cuts have been tabled to EU programmes, including Horizon Europe and Digital Europe. The former, covering the EU’s research and innovation framework, looks set to receive €80.9 billion, after being cut from €86.6 billion in 2018 costings. 

Digital Europe, meanwhile, will be in for a €6.7 billion outlay, a cut from €8.2 billion. This particular programme focuses on investment in a series of key areas for Europe’s future technological development, including supercomputing, Artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity, digital skills, and the digitalization of the public administration.

UK Google users to lose EU protection. Google has confirmed reports that the company is planning to move its British users’ accounts out of the control of European Union privacy regulators, placing them under US jurisdiction instead.

Google is making the decision because it is unclear whether Britain will follow GDPR or adopt other rules that could affect the handling of user data, according to sources close to the matter. EURACTIV recently covered this possibility following comments by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that his country would seek to diverge from EU data protection rules.

Online hate speech in Germany. Yesterday, the German Cabinet passed new plans to oblige social media giants like Facebook and YouTube to report instances of hate speech to the authorities. Content that comes under the new measures includes far-right material, violent content including murder and rape threats, terrorist threats and the dissemination of child sexual abuse images. Read more here. 

Irish DPC Report. Irish Commissioner for Data Protection, Helen Dixon, today launched the Irish DPC’s 2019 report, detailing the work of the DPC for the first full calendar year since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Key findings include the fact that there has been a 75% increase in the total number of complaints received in 2018, and a 71% increase on the total number of valid data security breaches recorded in the previous year.

“A good start is half the battle and the DPC is pleased at the foundations that have been laid in 2019. We are already expanding our team of 140 to meet the demands of 2020 and beyond,” Dixon said on Thursday. Read the report here.

Digital Competition. EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov reports this week that the Commission will look at the market dominance of digital behemoths and whether they stifle market entry for smaller businesses, according to Nils Behrndt, a high-ranking Commission official.

Speaking at a hearing on digital advertising and consumer information in the European Parliament on Monday, Behrndt said “this is clearly … an issue, which is hampering innovation and a level playing field,” adding that a planned forthcoming public consultation on this topic will take place in the spring.

Behrndt highlighted that the explicit intention of the Digital Services Act, to be presented at the end of this year, is to ensure “a level playing field and a fairer ecosystem, in particular for smaller businesses.”

Spanish Google Tax. The Spanish Council of Ministers approved on Tuesday (18 February) a national digital services tax known as the “Google tax”, as well as a financial transactions tax, EURACTIV’s partner EuroEFE reported.

Prague warned on digital tax. US ambassador to Czech Republic Stephen B. King officially warned Czech MPs against adopting the government’s proposal introducing a 7% digital tax and urged the Czech Republic to wait for a common OECD regulation, writes EURACTIV’s Aneta Zachová.

“As I already said to PM Andrej Babiš and other officials, the US keeps its right to adopt appropriate measures to defend our innovative companies. This might also include countermeasures,” wrote the ambassador in his letter addressed to the Czech parliament’s budget committee obtained by’s media partner, Hospodářské noviny.

Kurz supports digital tax. On the margins of the Security Conference in Munich, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that European big tech companies should “contribute their fair share in taxes”. He also pointed out that Austria had already introduced a digital tax and affirmed that he will continue to support a solution at EU level or the OECD. EURACTIV Germany’s Philipp Grüll looks at what else was discussed.

Ertug’s Social Contract for the Digital Age. “We need a new Social Contract for the digital age” says Ismail Ertug, Vice President of the S&D Group in the European Parliament, in charge of the group’s Digital Agenda. Speaking with EURACTIV’s Brian Maguire, Ertug dug deep into the S&D’s new digital position paper. Watch the interview here.

Creative Europe budget ‘unacceptable’. The projected budget for the EU’s Creative Europe programme, which offers funding to the bloc’s culture and audiovisual sectors, has been described as “unacceptable” by the European Parliament’s Culture Committee Chair, Sabine Verheyen. Read more here.

UK DCMS Ministerial team confirmed. Following UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has confirmed a number of new and returning ministers, with the Secretary of State post going to Oliver Dowden.

Other ministerial appointments include Caroline Dinenage, who will oversee Online Harms and Security, tech policy, and digital skills files. John Whittingdale, meanwhile, will be responsible for media, international strategy and oversight on EU negotiations in the digital affairs field. Read more here.

Mastercard opens Brussels cybersecurity centre. On Monday, Mastercard announced it is developing its first European ‘Cyber Resilience Centre’ located in Waterloo, just outside Brussels. “Financial services will always be at the top of the target list for attackers due to the vast pool of customer data and credentials under our responsibility,” said Javier Perez, President Europe at Mastercard.

Facebook call for regulation: Over the weekend, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said harmful online content should be regulated, adding that his company should be subject to a regulatory framework that is different from those used for existing media and telecoms companies, EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski reported.

His attempts to control the narrative on the future of content regulation were swiftly batted away by EU regulators in Brussels, however, when he visited Commissioner Breton and Vice-President Jourova on Monday. “Facebook cannot push away all the responsibility. Even if we come with regulation, they will never solve all the problems,” Jourova said following the meeting. “Facebook and Mr Zuckerberg have to answer themselves a question ‘who do they want to be’ as a company and what values they want to promote.”

Fun Fact of the week: Following Vestager’s talk at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels yesterday, it transpired that she does not use Google as a search engine, but prefers the European companies Cliqz and Qwant, from Germany and France respectively, instead.

On my radar.

The Council Horizontal Working Party on cyber next week will be discussing the EU cybersecurity research centre and the network of coordination centres, while the Council Justice and Home Affairs Information Exchange working group discuss interoperability in the context of biometric data, among other things



What else I’m reading this week:


Upcoming events:


(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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