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The Privacy Advisor | European Commission VP Talks Digital Single Market, Safe Harbor Related reading: Ansip: EU May Suspend Data-Sharing Agreements if U.S. Doesn’t Shape Up

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As concerns about the future of Safe Harbor and the economic relationship between the EU and U.S. continue to rise, European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip spoke of international cooperation and a “longstanding history of trust” between the two regions.

In his first official visit to the U.S. as commission vice president, Ansip addressed an audience at the Brookings Institution on Thursday, fleshing out the proposed EU Digital Single Market (DSM), which he called a "top priority for the European Commission;" the need for the free flow of information—not only in the EU but across the world; the future of Safe Harbor, and rising issues within the so-called sharing economy. "A Digital Single Market means more opportunities for Europe, certainly, but not exclusively," Ansip explained, adding, "Before we take any next steps, we would like to collect all views, and that means yours as well."

The European Commission has "been accused of unfairly targeting U.S. tech companies,” he said. “This is not true.”

Ansip went on to cite the number of commission cases against global companies, noting that cases against U.S. firms are in the minority of the total.

Ansip also expressed concerns about data protectionism—particularly in the EU. “It’s crystal clear to me that the free flow of information is really needed in our economy and democracy.” Connected vehicles such as trucks, for example, help companies with efficiency and their bottom line. “But what happens when those trucks cross borders where the free flow of data must be prohibited?” Balancing such economic needs with individual privacy will be an important step in the DSM.

“Trust is a must,” he said. “We have to create an environment that people can trust. We are not creating the DSM only for Europeans. We don’t have separate rules for EU companies and other companies. The DSM will be beneficial not only for Europeans but for American businesses, too.”

Ansip noted that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is “extremely important” for both regions. “Cooperation between the U.S. and EU is quite deep already,” he said, “and maybe too often we are complaining about some issues … about the Fortress Europe and protectionism. There’s no basis for those types of complaints.”

Yet, Ansip is concerned about fragmentation within the EU and wants to move from an ecosystem that drives away home grown innovation. Spotify served as a prescient example for the vice president. Created in Sweden, Spotify had to move out of the EU to the U.S. in order to scale up its operations. “Why is it so difficult to scale up inside the EU?” he asked. “It’s because of fragmentation of the EU market. With 28 different regulations, it’s pretty complicated ... It’s much easier to move out of the EU to scale up.” But, he noted, Spotify is back in Europe, going country by country.

He also said there’s a “bright future” for sharing platforms, but like in the U.S., difficult questions concerning the sharing economy are on the rise. He noted consumers are happy with many sharing platforms, but there are concerns from established industry sectors such as the taxi, hotel and banking industries. “We have to study these issues,” he said, asking, “Is there a real basis for those concerns—do we have to act or not?”

He said the U.S. is facing the same questions—as is evident by an upcoming U.S. Federal Trade Commission roundtable on the sharing economy.

“I cannot see any difference in approach in the U.S. as is in the EU,” he noted. “We’re all dealing with the same issues, but I believe in the future, our cooperation dealing with those issues will be deeper than today.”

Ansip was also optimistic about the future of Safe Harbor. “Optimism is our moral duty,” he said. “I really believe we will be able to find consensus on this very issue soon.”

He applauded calls by President Barack Obama for more surveillance transparency in the U.S. and cited the importance of an initiative to give EU citizens the right to judicial redress in U.S. courts.

“We can see some real developments in those Safe Harbor negotiations,” he said, but U.S. intelligence's access to European citizens’ data is still a sticking point. “We’re pretty close to finding consensus on this issue,” he said, noting it’s an area where “we still have to regain mutual trust.”

“Let us build on our longstanding history of trust and cooperation,” he said, “So we can have a bright digital future.”

photo credit: Berlaymont via photopin (license)

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