EU leaders push for ‘innovation friendliness’ in digital policy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron take part in a face-to-face European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, 21 October 2021. [YVES HERMAN / POOL/EPA]

EU leaders stressed the need to make digital regulation more innovation-friendly, but the digital agenda remained at the margins of the European Council summit.

EU heads of state and governments quickly rubber-stamped the conclusions related to digital policies during the Council meeting that concluded on Friday (22 October). Digital was the final point on the agenda which was dominated by the energy crisis, Poland, and migration policy.

“The amount of time spent on digital does not reflect the importance of the subject,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters, adding that the little time dedicated to the digital agenda should be interpreted as a sign of general agreement among the member states.

Michel added that cybersecurity, fundamental freedoms and innovation were at the centre of the digital agenda.

The point on innovation has made its way in the summit’s conclusions, compared to a draft that circulated last week and was seen by EURACTIV. A reference was added on artificial intelligence, where EU countries call for “establishing an innovation-friendly regulatory framework.”

During the discussion, Estonia voiced disappointment that the digital agenda was given so little attention. The Baltic country also highlighted the need to scale up investments in artificial intelligence, noting that most of the new applications of this disruptive technology were concentrated in the United States and China.

“The parts on digitalisation have been uncontroversial. But I have to emphasise that the time is pressing to pass the various legal acts. […] We need an innovation-friendly regulation in the European Union,” said Angela Markel, the outgoing German Chancellor.

“This holds true for the data policies the data strategy, artificial intelligence as well as digital services,” Merkel added.

Data is also another part of the conclusions where a reference to innovation was added. Future European initiatives in this area should ensure data portability, fair access to data and interoperability, said EU leaders.

The wording appears to echo a recent Dutch non-paper on the upcoming Data Act, which seems to have resonated with other European capitals.

Merkel also noted that “from a German perspective the proposals of the Commission are in some parts not ambitious enough. The Council has made it clear that we expect innovation friendliness.”

The Netherlands publishes non-paper on upcoming Data Act

A non-paper pressing for data sharing provisions, interoperability requirements, and data access for the public sector in the European Commissions Data Act proposal was circulated by the Dutch government on Friday (30 September). The act is expected to be formally presented by the end of 2021.

French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that the European Commission needs to take a bigger role in the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), the two flagship EU proposals to regulate the digital space.

Paris had tried to fix a deadline for next spring for the adoption of the two key laws ahead of next May’s presidential elections. This, however, was blocked by a majority of EU countries.

EU countries reject strict deadline for DSA, DMA

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.

Referring to the DSA, Macron stated that “we defend the idea that the Commission can play a greater role in direct regulation.”

The debate around the enforcement of the DSA has seen France clashing with Ireland in recent weeks, as Paris sought greater powers for its national authorities when implementing EU rules. Ireland, on the other hand, defended the so-called country of origin principle, defining it as a red line.

The French President’s statement seems to go in the direction of a recent proposal of the Slovenian Presidency, which seeks to give the EU executive stronger intervention powers to avoid enforcement deadlocks.

Slovenian Presidency pitches provisions to ‘avoid enforcement deadlocks’ in DSA

The Slovenian Presidency has advanced an enforcement structure that would give stronger intervention powers to the European Commission in the context of the proposed Digital Services Act (DSA) package.

The European Commission presented the package in December 2020. It contains the …

Last-minute additions to the summit’s conclusions also concern cyber security, with EU countries emphasising “the necessity to reinforce action in the fight against cybercrime, in particular ransomware attacks, and enhance cooperation with partner countries, including in multilateral fora.

A mention of the Joint Cyber Unit initiative was combined with a reference to ‘exercises’ as a way to promote efficient responses to large-scale cyber attacks at EU level. 

EU countries to ‘explore the potential’ of a joint cyber unit

EU member states have opened to the Commission’s proposal for a Joint Cyber Unit while remaining cautious to avoid overlapping existing initiatives.

A mention of trusted connectivity was also expanded, stressing, in particular, the importance of establishing partnerships with like-minded countries as a way to promote EU values and interests at international level.

“The Trade and Technology Council is an important step in strengthening transatlantic cooperation in the digital field,” the conclusions add.

*Mathieu Pollet and Oliver Noyan contributed to the reporting.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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