A majority of EU countries have succeeded in rejecting the commitment to a tight timeline for an agreement on two key pieces of digital legislation that would have served well the French government ahead of the presidential elections there in April next year.
Leaders of EU-27 are due to meet on 21 and 22 October for the European Council in Brussels. While the ongoing energy crunch is set to take the centre stage, digital policies also remain on top of the leaders’ agenda.
An initial draft of the summit conclusions that circulated two weeks ago committed to finding an agreement for the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA) by spring 2022. EU diplomats took that to mean by March next year, just ahead of France’s presidential elections.
Paris is due to take over the rotating presidency of the EU Council next year, a key position to shape the EU legislative agenda. The narrative of reining in Big Tech is rather popular in France, therefore finding an agreement on the two landmark proposals would serve the government and President Emmanuel Macron well in the presidential campaign.
While trying to obtain a victory in Brussels to sell it back to one’s domestic electorate is nothing new, the mention would have been the first explicit deadline for the DSA and DMA. But a majority of member states opposed this reference as the timeline was considered too strict and not very realistic, an EU diplomatic source told EURACTIV.
France was backed in in its efforts by the current Slovenian EU presidency, Spain and Portugal.
In the new version of the Council conclusions that circulated on Monday (12 October), seen by EURACTIV, the exact timing has given way to “as soon as possible”, whereas the agreement to be reached has acquired the definition of “ambitious”.
The two versions include other relevant changes, the result of comments from the European governments.
Compared to the previous version, the language is colder concerning the Path to the Digital Decade, a policy programme the European Commission is launching to monitor the digital transition in the member states. The Council no longer “welcomes” the Commission’s proposal, it rather “calls for a swift examination.”
A reference has been added to the Roaming Regulation, as the Council calls for reaching an agreement by the end of the year. The current legal framework for roaming expires by June 2022 so a new solution is urgently needed.
The Council stresses the need to unlock the value of data in Europe and a reference to swift progress for a comprehensive regulatory framework. This mention was added upon the insistence of the Netherlands, which has been advocating for specific data-sharing provisions in the Data Act the Commission is due to present in December.
A hint at the establishment of sectorial data spaces has also been added. The first data space will be related to health and is expected by the end of the year.
The reference to “establishing a regulatory framework for artificial intelligence in order to accelerate the uptake of this technology by both the private and public sector while ensuring safety and full respect of fundamental rights” is virtually unchanged.
The same goes for the call on a coordinated approach for a European Digital Identity framework.
Emphasis on microchips, cybersecurity, connectivity
By contrast, the conclusion on microchips has been significantly enhanced. The first version called for the creation of a cutting-edge European microchip ecosystem, spanning from design to production.
The new text stresses the importance of ensuring resilience to avoid critical shortages by securing the supply of raw materials. Furthermore, it has been added that the Council looks forward to the European Chips Act.
In terms of cybersecurity, the second draft adds a reference to “the marked increase of malicious cyber activities aimed at undermining our democratic values and the security of the core functions of our societies.”
The implicit reference is to autocratic powers, against which the Council “reiterates its unwavering commitment to pursue democratic values, both online and offline.”
To build their cyber capacities, EU countries call for advancing work on the revised Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems (NIS2), the Directive on the resilience of Critical Entities and the Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox.
The conclusions underscore the importance of a coordinated approach to cybersecurity threats, and especially the response to large-scale attacks should be addressed by cybersecurity crisis management at the EU level. In this context, the potential of a Joint Cyber Unit is to be explored.
One last point was added in the new version, stressing “the importance of digital connectivity – including through secured space-based connectivity – and global partnerships as tools to advance our interests and values on the global stage.”
The model the EU countries point to is the “European Trusted Connectivity” based on trust, transparency and accountability. Trusted connectivity has become a recurrent theme in European circles, and it is meant to oppose infrastructures financed by authoritarian regimes, notably under China’s Road and Belt Initiative.
The implicit reference is to the global connectivity strategy the European Commission is due to present later this week, which is intended to bring all EU-financed infrastructural projects around the globe under a single umbrella.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]