EU ministers dramatically agreed to hold a marathon meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council in June in order to finalize their version of the EU General Data Protection Regulation, having earlier reached agreement on the regulatory one-stop shop and the principles underpinning the regulation.
Agreement in June would then allow trilogue discussions between the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and the European Commission to commence in the summer with a view to agreeing on the whole text by the end of 2015.
EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová confirmed the breakthrough by tweeting, “Council compromise reached on key elements of #EUdataP reform. On track for conclusion in 2015!”
At a meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels on March 13, Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s federal minister of the interior, led the call for the work of the 28 EU member states to be concluded under the current Latvian Presidency of the Council.
Acknowledging that there were still many outstanding issues and that the current procedure provided insufficient time for these to be resolved, de Maizière suggested that the next meeting of the council on June 15 or 16 should start at 10 a.m. and keep going until they had finished.
His call was supported by a number of other member state ministers, notably Christiane Taubira, France’s justice minister, who added that perhaps the ministers should be shut into a room with no food, no drink, no water, so that the regulation could be finished.
Luxembourg Justice Minister Félix Braz, rounded off this discussion by anticipating his country’s own presidency, which commences in July, and its role in representing the council in trilogue negotiations during the second half of 2015, which now appears likely. Braz acknowledged that discussions with the European Parliament will not be easy, particularly as the views of some MEPs are strongly held. But the key objective was to get the council text agreed first.
As for the matters on the agenda, the ministers finally agreed to a partial general approach on the one-stop shop and the principles. This effectively nails down the council’s position in these areas, but these discussions were not without controversy.
Dara Murphy, Ireland’s minister of state with responsibility for data protection, in a strident intervention, was somewhat critical of the latest formulation of the one-stop shop. He considered it to be unwieldy and bureaucratic, particularly as no quantitative threshold was in place that would trigger a referral of a complaint from national data protection authorities to the new European Data Protection Board. The UK, Poland, Finland and The Netherlands also supported this view.
However, in a press release issued after the meeting, Murphy appeared to be more conciliatory: “The one-stop-shop mechanism is a very important element of this Data Protection Regulation, for both citizens and SMEs. Today’s meeting was another step towards agreement on this key issue and provides the basis for further work on this important legislation.”
In relation to the principles, some ministers expressed concerns that the conditions for further processing under Article 6 were inconsistent with the aims of the regulation and may even provide a lower standard than the current Directive 95/46/EC. Austria and Italy in particular considered that there was a potential conflict in the text between the legitimate interests of data controllers and the fundamental rights of individuals.
Despite such outstanding concerns, what is clear from this meeting is that, finally, the EU member states are ready to wrap up their first reading of the regulation, which will have been three and half years in the making by June. Crucially, the council also has the backing of the European Commission, which will mediate the trilogue discussions and has shown willingness to compromise through its acceptance of the council proposals on this occasion.
If general approach is reached in June, then pressure for the whole text to be agreed by Parliament and the council by the end of 2015 will ratchet up. Trilogue discussions will not be easy, but Luxembourg is an old hand at the EU game and is well connected. Therefore, the chances of successfully meeting the end of 2015 deadline seem to be stronger than they once might have appeared, but there is still much more to do before final agreement is reached.
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