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Speech - Data Protection: Vice-President Reding's intervention in the Justice Council

European Commission - SPEECH/13/1027   06/12/2013

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European Commission

Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner

Data Protection: Vice-President Reding's intervention in the Justice Council

Justice Council /Brussels

6 December 2013

Introduction

The European Union has the highest level of data protection in the world. European rules are already a global gold standard for the protection of personal data. The reform I proposed two years ago, set out to increase this protection further. At the same time it drives forward the potential of our digital single market. The world, from Latin America to Africa and South-East Asia, has looked at these proposals as a model to be emulated.

We all agree that we need this reform. This is a consensus which emerged very early in our discussions. It is a consensus that cuts across institutions, organisations and national or economic interests.

We also agree on why we need this reform: because the protection of personal data is a fundamental right in our Union and because personal data is the fuel of the digital economy. We also know that the rules we have in place at the moment need to catch up with developments in the economy, in technology and in society.

These are the fundamentals, the reasons why the reform is so important.

The One-Stop-Shop

These fundamentals go to the core of the issue we are discussing today, the One-Stop-Shop:

First, because the way we enforce data protection rules today is bad for business. It is fragmented and inconsistent. A business processing data in 28 Member States has to deal with 28 Regulatory authorities. This has a cost. It hinders the growth of businesses in Europe. We need to fix this.

Second, because the way we enforce data protection rules today is bad for citizens. Europeans will see their protection enhanced by this reform. Let me give you one example. At the moment, where a company is established in only in one Member State, only the data protection authority in that Member State has a role to play. The aim of the reform is to fix this problem. The aim of the reform is to ensure that individuals will always be able to go to their local data protection authority. This would end the sorry saga of cases such that of the Austrian student who had to file a claim before a DPA in Ireland where Facebook is established.

This is why the One-Stop-Shop is a pillar of this reform – and why we must get it right.

The October Council

In October, we had reasons to be optimistic: we agreed in principle that a meaningful One-Stop-Shop mechanism is a key building block of our reform. A One-Stop-Shop that is fast, consistent and predictable. A system of enforcement which produces legal certainty, and does not impose costs through unnecessary bureaucracy.

We were almost there: the Commission showed openness to different concerns and made clear it was open to finding workable solutions. A viable compromise was in sight.

The European Council at the end of October reminded us of the importance of our work. It called for the timely adoption of the reform.

In October we identified two points that needed further reflection, namely:

  1. Improving the proximity between individuals and the lead supervisory authority taking the decision; and

  2. Looking more closely at the interplay between the role of the lead supervisory authority and the other concerned (or “local”) supervisory authorities.

We had made progress on these points at technical level:

  1. We strengthened the role of “local” authorities in the decision-making process. We strengthened the obligation of the lead authority to work with local authorities. We enabled the local authorities to oppose a draft measure, and to escalate the matter by involving the European Data protection Board. Virtual co-decision.

  2. We also make crystal-clear that individuals will always have the possibility to go to court in their home country against a company, regardless of where that company is established.

This was real progress.

Moving backwards

Since then, instead of moving forwards, we have moved back. Instead of building on our progress in October, the Presidency document we have before us today deconstructs it.

We are effectively reopening questions which had been agreed in October. The questions we have been asked cast doubt on the fundamentals and call into question our central objectives. The One-Stop-Shop would become an empty shell. Bad for citizens and bad for business.

I cannot support this. I have often called on the Council to move forward on this file quickly. But not at any cost. I want a meaningful reform, and this has to include a meaningful One-Stop-Shop.

In my view we should therefore return to where we stood in October. Simplify rather than complicate the discussion. Take stock and move ahead aware of our objectives.

Conclusion

While the European Parliament has moved forward decisively, ready with its mandate in hand to negotiate with the Council, we are going round and round in circles. I hope, therefore, that what we leave behind today, will be picked up with renewed energy, and a clear political commitment by the Greek Presidency in January. I trust our Greek colleagues to show leadership, determination and a strong sense of responsibility towards our citizens.

Dear colleagues, I want a deal that is good for citizens and that is good for business. We need to maintain the high level of data protection in Europe. At the same time, we need to find solutions that are workable for business. That is what the discussion about the One-Stop-Shop is about. Let's make sure we deliver.

Since you mentioned the Council legal service, let me say a word on this. The Commission's proposals have been on the table since January 2012.

Allow me to quote the conclusions of the October Council "The Council expressed its support for the principle that, in important transnational cases, the regulation should establish a "one-stop-shop" mechanism in order to arrive at a single supervisory decision, which should be fast, ensure consistent application, provide legal certainty and reduce administrative burden."

In October, was the legal service in the room? Did the legal service read the conclusions of the Council?

I think we should not have legal discussions here but a political discussion.

[Council Legal Service Intervention]

I have heard the political opinion of the Council legal service. It was a political decision not to establish a central agency. We decided to establish a law taking into account the proximity of citizens.

On substance, I pass the floor to the Commission's Legal Service, who will clarify that there is no issue of legality or of compliance with fundamental rights.

[Commission Legal Service intervention]

These have been the legal arguments for two years. And they have been known for two years. We do not want any new bureaucracies. Member States do not want new bureaucracies. Citizens do not want bureaucracies.

What we need is a sound solution which protects citizens, not lawyers.

Now that it has been clarified that there is no issue of legality or of compliance with fundamental rights, I believe that the discussion on the One-Stop-Shop can proceed on the basis of the elements that have been previously agreed.


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