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| EU countries vote unanimously to approve AI Act Related reading: EU AI Act: Draft consolidated text leaked online

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Representatives from EU member states unanimously voted Friday to advance the Artificial Intelligence Act, paving the way for a paradigm-shifting set of rules that will influence how AI is governed in the region and around the world.

Though several steps remain in finalizing the legislation, approval by the Council of the EU's Committee of Permanent Representatives, or COREPER, removes a major stumbling block for the AI Act. In recent weeks, reports surfaced that France, in particular, along with Austria, Germany and Italy had reservations about the package. 

However, on Tuesday, the tides turned when German media outlet Handelsblatt reported that Volker Wissing, who leads the Digital Ministry in Germany, ended his opposition to the bill after reaching a compromise. According to Politico, a spokesman for Wissing said, "We asked the EU Commission to clarify that the AI Act does not apply to the use of AI in medical devices." 

In an updated press release Friday, which was originally published when EU stakeholders reached a political deal on compromise text last December, the Council of the EU released text of the provisional agreement, dated 2 Feb. 

European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said the agreement "resulted in a balanced and futureproof text, promoting trust and innovation in trustworthy AI." He added, "Today's unanimous endorsement by all Member States is a testament to this balanced approach, as well as its importance for European citizens." 

After Friday's vote, Carlos Romero Duplá, Digital Transformation Attaché at the Permanent Representation of Spain to the EU, posted, "Finally. DEAL confirmed! Almost three years of intense work, seven presidencies: Portugal, Slovenia, France, Czech Republic, Sweden, Spain and Belgium and lots of hours and illusion with the European Parliament." He said the "historic legislation ... sets a balanced approach which guarantees citizens' rights but encourages innovation around the development of artificial intelligence." 

Cornelia Kutterer, Senior Research Fellow Multidisciplinary Institute in Artificial Intelligence at Université Grenoble Alpes, said in comments provided to the IAPP, "Considering the last couple of weeks, when the AI Act seemed to hang in threads, today's vote is a relief. This is a significant milestone, but it's just the beginning of a complex journey towards effective AI governance." 

Next steps

With approval confirmed from the Council of the EU, all eyes move to the European Parliament. Two parliamentary committees, the internal market and civil liberties committees, will vote 13 Feb. The full European Parliament plenary vote is expected either 10 or 11 April. Significant opposition in either committee or the full plenary is not expected. 

Once adopted, the AI Act would enter into force 20 days after publication in the official journal. There are several application dates, including those for prohibited AI systems, high-risk AI systems, among others. 

The European Commission will be required to lead on at least 20 delegated acts and stand up an AI Office. 

Of Friday's vote, Kutterer said, "It's one step in a series of legislative processes, including the Parliament's forthcoming decision and subsequent implementation phases. With the numerous references in the Act to codes of conducts, standards, guidelines, delegated acts and implementing acts, the vote marks the start of a dynamic, ongoing regulatory dialogue involving various stakeholders in AI."

According to Friday's reporting from Euractiv, France wants assurance that the AI Act's implementation will not stifle development of its homegrown AI companies and overburden companies with too many obligations. Slovakia asked "for clarifications of critical terms, international alignment, and the possibility of EU countries regulating AI used in non-professional activities." Austria raised concerns related to data protection and exceptions for law enforcement, as well as remote biometric identification. 

Earlier this week, IAPP AI Governance Center Managing Director Ashley Casovan moderated a panel discussion on breaking down the AI Act with Cornelia Kutter, Head of Office and Digital Policy Advisor for MEP Axel Voss in the European Parliament Kai Zenner and IAPP Europe Managing Director Isabelle Roccia, CIPP/E.

The IAPP will continue to report on and share insights for next steps in this process. 


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