The Brief – ‘Thank you, Mr Zuckerberg’

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

Europeans are feeling smug one month before the EU’s landmark data protection regulation comes into effect.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sweated through hours of testimony in the US Senate last night, appearing at times awkward, clammy, and unable to answer a number of questions about the social media giant’s use of people’s personal data.

The dialed-up pressure on Facebook is a gift for the European Commission. Since news broke last month that UK firm Cambridge Analytica misused data from millions of the platform’s users, the Commission has received a rare heaping of praise for its strict new privacy law, known as the GDPR.

Yesterday, Zuckerberg himself commended the EU.

“I think that they get things right,” the 33-year-old billionaire said in response to a senator’s question about the GDPR.

That’s got to feel good for EU legislators who pushed the regulation through.

It has gone down in Brussels history as the most lobbied piece of European legislation ever. MEPs tacked on a record-high 3,999 amendments to the bill before it was passed in 2016.

Vera Jourova, the EU Justice Commissioner in charge of the GDPR, told reporters today that she was grateful for Zuckerberg’s accolades.

“Believe me, I was really desperate about thinking how to make the best possible campaign for GDPR. So now this is welcome. So thank you, Mr Zuckerberg,” she said.

Jourova said she had other questions in mind to ask Zuckerberg that didn’t come up in yesterday’s hearing—and still wants to hear “European kind of questions”.

But so far, Zuckerberg has given no response to an invitation to speak about the Cambridge Analytica scandal in the European Parliament.

“There should be a chance given to the European legislators,” Jourova said.

The EU justice chief also said she still has a list of questions she will ask Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in a phone call tomorrow.

Zuckerberg is in the hot seat this week, and another long grilling session in Congress has just kicked off. But regulators’ pressure on Facebook will spill over to affect other technology companies.

The powerful umbrella group of national data protection authorities from EU countries announced today that it is starting up a new working group to investigate data harvesting from social media platforms.

“A multi-billion dollar social media platform saying it is sorry simply is not enough,” Andrea Jelinek, the chair of the so-called article 29 working party said.

So Facebook has opened Pandora’s Box.

“What we are seeing today is most likely only one instance of the much wider spread practice of harvesting personal data from social media for economic or political reasons,” Jelinek said.

The Roundup

EU Citizens’ Initiatives are starting to make an impact, a recent update to drinking water rules was moulded by one and a proposal aimed at restoring trust in scientific studies was released today. But the reviews are already a bit mixed.

Finland is going to ban coal power in 2029 and reward energy firms that phase it out ahead of schedule. It’s a move that is meant to reduce emissions and cut dependence on Russian imports. The EU might not be so lucky in that latter regard for fertiliser though.

Hungary, particularly its reelected leader Viktor Orban, won’t stop banging on about George Soros. Check out this meme that sums things up quite nicely.

As if it hasn’t been laborious enough already, EU Brexit boss Michel Barnier warned that talks with the UK are only going to get more difficult and wants London to sign up to a “non-regression” clause to tie it to existing environmental standards.

Talking of standards, fire-retardant EU flags have been working overtime since June 2016. A bizarre protest that involved a burning boat and a gurning Nigel Farage is the latest example of Brits gon’ mad. They’re also raging against the number of EU citizens banged up in English and Welsh prisons.

Congratulations to all the young translators that took part in the Commission’s annual Juvenes Translatores day. EURACTIV loves a bit of translation and it’s great to see young people taking part. Oh, and Happy Birthday to ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt. We hope you enjoyed your card

Look out for…

Tomorrow is the 4th EU energy summit. A few Commissioners, a smattering of MEPs and plenty of industry heads will be in town to hash out where Europe’s energy policy should be heading.

Views are the author’s

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