EU justice chief plans civil code, privacy laws

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Viviane Reding, the EU’s new commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, is planning ambitious reforms for her mandate including the introduction of a European Civil Code and a major revamp of EU data protection rules.

“The first priorities in the field of justice are consumer contract law and contract law,” a source familiar with the matter told EURACTIV, adding that the European Commission had not ruled out “possibly moving towards a European Civil Code”.

Indeed, the issue has already been addressed by current Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, who proposed a new directive on consumer rights in 2008, establishing the basis for EU consumer contract legislation.

The directive is currently awaiting the approval of the European Parliament, and the new commissioner in charge of the dossier will be tasked with steering the directive through the EU’s lengthy legislative process.

EU contract law represents a much more ambitious target and could form the basis of a European Civil Code: a long-standing objective of supporters of deeper EU integration.

However, the idea is far from consensual as it could impinge on the powers of member states, which fear losing control over rules directly connected to their national culture.

National civil codes encompass property, contracts, tort and general obligations at the core of civic life, which stem directly from the traditions of each country. They also govern family or employment relations, areas in which the EU’s competences are strictly limited.

A European Civil Code would represent a substantial step forward for the EU’s internal market, allowing companies and consumers to operate more easily in another country without having to face different laws. 

But it is likely to face strong resistance in countries like Britain, as it would make the EU appear more of a ‘superstate’ than a loose confederation of nations.

Data protection

Data protection remains on the top of Commissioner Reding’s agenda. As information society commissioner, she never missed an opportunity – particularly at the end of her mandate – to identify the hidden dangers of new technologies.

For instance, she recommended improving privacy protection in a number of fields, ranging from social-networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook to radio frequency identification tags (RFID) (EURACTIV 27/10/09). 

As justice commissioner, she will be able to widen the scope of such action to include data protection issues, which currently fall under the mandate of Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot.

Her first move will be to “review the Data Protection Directive of 1995,” the EU source told EURACTIV. “The world has changed since 1995,” underlined the official, stressing the necessity of reform.

The importance of data protection is highlighted by the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, under which the protection of personal data becomes a fundamental right of the EU. Reding will be in charge of “upholding EU fundamental rights in all EU legislation,” according to experts.

People familiar with the dossier say Reding will maintain a pragmatic but reform-oriented approach, aimed at allowing businesses that need easy access to private information to thrive – such as Internet search engines – but requiring them to make relevant concessions.

Luxembourg's Viviane Reding is currently the EU's information society and media commissioner. She made headlines during the Barroso I Commission by introducing EU-wide legislation to reduce the cost of making cross-border mobile phone calls, or so-called 'roaming' charges.

She emerged as a champion of competition and emerging business against the power of established national conglomerates.

Reding's pro-EU stance helped her to win a third mandate in the EU executive, after having served as education and culture commissioner under Romano Prodi before her stint in charge of information society and media during José Manuel Barroso's first term as Commission president.

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