Greetings from Brussels!
This week heralded the adoption of the common position on a general approach to the GDPR by the EU justice ministers to commence negotiations with the European Parliament. It is a key milestone in the legislative process, although, as to be expected, the ministerial text has not pleased everyone; Austria for example rejected it outright over fears data protection standards would be lower than current rules.
Before we get over excited, let’s bear in mind that we are still very much at the draft stage, and only through the trilogue process will we begin to see where we land on the many contentious issues. Sanctions, consent, risk-based approach, data protection officers, how the one-stop shop is governed and how data is transferred to the U.S. are all problem areas that will need to be resolved.
The Council wants weaker sanctions, opposes mandatory data protection officers and backs “unambiguous” instead of “explicit” consent on personal data. On transfers, the parliament had introduced a clause to create a legal basis on how firms pass on the data of EU citizens to American authorities. The same is not included the council version. “My impression is that in this area many member states wanted that in also but they just didn’t manage to agree on a wording,” said MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht. Interestingly, certification mechanisms receive prominent mention in the Council text, implying that organizations should be looking to demonstrate appropriate safeguards with respect to privacy.
Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vĕra Jourová said this week that Europe had taken a big step forward in making Europe fit for the Digital Age. She remains upbeat that the European Commission can reach a final agreement with the European Parliament and the Council by the end of this year. Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said that he was encouraged by this positive development but, perhaps more cautiously, did not refer to the timeline. To conclude an agreement on the text by the end of year is an ambitious target; if you remove the summer months of July and August, the trilogue effectively has a three-month window, say from September 15 to December 15, to deliver the long-awaited final text. That said, political momentum is with the tide, and I would expect that Luxembourg, which takes over the presidency of the Council of the EU till the end of the year, will do everything possible to achieve the goal. Let us not forget that the European Commission president is a Luxembourger; this must surely be a personal goal.
The first trilogue meeting between the three key EU institutions will take place on June 24, with the participation of Jourová. The joint press release that follows will hopefully give us an indication as to the forthcoming outcome.
I leave you on a historical note. Today, 200 years ago, the Anglo-Irish soldier and statesman the Duke of Wellington led the European Coalition armies in the final defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo just outside Brussels: a first milestone that would lead to the creation of the Kingdom of Belgium, eventual home to the European Institutions. The historical tapestry of Europe is rich and meaningful in so many ways, and we have come a long way in those 200 years. May our future be as equally meaningful.
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