Brussels makes overture on ‘data flow’ agreement in TTIP

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Negotiations on the free flow of data could be considered as part the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but only after an agreement is reached on the EU’s data protection regulation, EU officials said yesterday (19 March).

Speaking at AmCham EU’s annual Transatlantic Conference, a senior official said that the EU is “on the same page as the US theoretically on the issue of data flows”.

But he added, “Until the EU’s data protection regulation has been agreed, we cannot introduce such concepts within the TTIP negotiations.”

Juhan Lepassar, the head of Digital Commissioner Andrus Ansip’s cabinet, also told delegates that policymakers in the EU executive were aware that data flows are an issue within the TTIP negotiations, confirming that the data protection regulation is a priority.

He said that responsibility for achieving a quick agreement on the data protection regulation lay with the EU’s 28 member states, which are currently discussing the proposal.

Up to this point, EU officials have said that they want data kept firmly off the table, so acknowledging that it will eventually be discussed in the negotiations is a shift.

EURACTIV understands that, at the highest level, EU negotiators realise that the issue is extremely sensitive in Europe, in the wake of the Anglo-American digital espionage scandal exposed by former US intelligence employee Edward Snowden.

The Commission’s desire to rapidly conclude negotiations on common EU data protection rules is set to be a major plank of proposals for the Digital Single Market, to be published by Ansip in May.

The Data Protection Regulation (DPR) remains within the remit of the member states. It is awaiting a general agreement before it can advance to trilogue stage, when negotiations with the Parliament and Commission will start again.

The Parliament’s rapporteur on the paper, German Greens MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, has warned that differences between the European Parliament and the 28 member states cast doubts over whether the new rules can be agreed before the end of this year.

Issues surrounding informed consent for the use of data, sanctions, privacy by design and red tape remain sources of friction between Parliament and EU member states represented at the Council of the European Union, according to Albrecht.

>> Read: EU lawmaker warns of data protection rules delay till 2016

Various clauses within the proposed DPR would affect larger US companies offering so-called “over-the-top” data services, such as Google and Amazon, and, more significantly, the burgeoning cloud computing sector. US-based cloud computing service providers currently account for around 85% of global markets.

US industry is keen to see such “data flows” brought within the TTIP discussion, to maintain their business models.

“In the end, data flows will have to come onto the table. The TTIP cannot be agreed before that happens,” one senior negotiator close to the TTIP talks told EURACTIV last November on condition of anonymity.

Speaking at yesterday’s Transatlantic Conference, Liam Benham, Vice-President for Governmental Programs for IBM Europe, said that the issue was ultimately political.

Benham said that in order to secure an agreement on TTIP, US politicians will want to see that it has the backing of some of the largest sectors, such as technology.

In June 2013, EU heads of state and government mandated the Commission to start negotiating a free trade agreement with the US, giving guidelines concerning what the negotiations should include.

Negotiations for an agreement – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – started in July 2013. Eight rounds of negotiations have now been completed, with the ninth scheduled to take place this April, in Washington.

Negotiators on both sides have called for completion of the agreement as soon as possible. The EU remains optimistic that a final agreement can be achieved this year, though most analysts consider that highly unlikely.

>> Read our LinksDossier: TTIP for dummies

  • May 2015: Digital Single Market proposals expected to be published by Commission

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