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Vice President of the European Commission, EU Commissioner for Justice
Vice-President Reding's intervention during Justice Council Press Conference, 6 June 2013
Justice Council Press Conference/Luxembourg
6 June 2013
Data Protection Reform
This is the last Justice Council under the Irish Presidency. And I would like to thank the Irish Presidency for the tremendous efforts it had invested in the Data Protection reform package.
Alan, you said that data protection would be the priority of your Presidency. You have been true to your word. We have seen a real data protection sprint over the past five months: 25 days of meetings at Expert Level and five discussions at COREPER. I even hear that delegations have been setting up tents in the working group! This shows very clearly just how committed you have been to making progress.
The Presidency has focused on chapters one to four of the General Data Protection Regulation which contain the fundamentals of the reform. This is the real 'meat' of the proposal as they contain the principles, the rights of individuals and the obligations of companies and administrations.
There have been three detailed rounds of discussions on these chapters and today Ministers generally endorsed the revised draft presented today. Work also progressed on the Data Protection Directive which applies to Police and Criminal Justice authorities: the Presidency has also completed the first reading of the Directive.
This is a remarkable achievement and deserves our strong support. We need to continue moving forward on both instruments as a package. This approach is also supported by the European Parliament.
The completion of Europe’s Digital Single Market has been called for by all EU leaders. It has been called for by CEOs of European multinationals, such as Nokia. Studies estimate that a true Digital Single Market could bring benefits amounting to up to 4% of EU GDP by 2020. Data protection reform is a key element of this – because data is the currency of the new digital economy.
The reform will generate growth because it will replace a patchwork of 27 contradictory national rules with a single law, valid throughout the whole of Europe. One continent, one law. This will help spur innovation and competition.
The reform will also generate trust in digital services by making sure that our rules are up to date. The Data Protection package is not about reinventing the wheel or revolutionising the rules which Europe has had since 1995. It is about their evolution. It is about adapting tried and tested data protection principles to situations which are commonplace today but which were unimaginable 18 years ago.
This reform is also about addressing the concerns of EU citizens about their privacy rights. People are worried about their personal data and do not always feel in control or trust companies in handling their personal data.
Europe needs to respond to these concerns. This is our responsibility. But this is also a unique opportunity:
I read a few weeks ago in the international press that as the EU is negotiating its data protection laws, "the whole world is watching" us reforming our data protection rules. This is a case where we are setting a world and a gold standard for data protection.
We should not underestimate this element, at a time when some are tempted to undermine the weight of Europe in the world. We should not underestimate this element at a time when people are wondering what difference Europe makes to them.
Today I have made very clear that I will fight for a reform of the EU's data protection rules that will strengthen the rights of EU citizens and stimulate growth in the evolving single digital single market. The absolute red line below which I am not prepared to go is the current level of protection as laid down in the 1995 Directive.
I count on the European Parliament and on the incoming Lithuanian Presidency to resist, alongside the Commission, all attempts by those who are still trying to weaken data protection standards in Europe.
If Europe wants to respond to today's challenges, then we need to be ambitious. Despite the data protection sprint we have seen under the Irish presidency, we have not yet reached the finish line. The ball is now in two courts. The ball is in Member States' court to continue progress in the Council, and the ball is the European Parliament's court, to reach its own position on the proposals. They will need to move up a gear if they want this reform to happen sooner rather than later. The clock is ticking for international competitiveness.
You can count on me to give the Lithuanian Presidency all the support it needs to keep up the momentum.
Access to a lawyer
Moving on to another file that will make a real difference in the every-day life of citizens: Justice Ministers have today endorsed the Commission’s proposal to guarantee all EU citizens who are suspects the right to have access to a lawyer and the right to speak to a family member.
This might seem like an obvious principle - but it is not.
Over 8 million criminal proceedings are initiated in the EU every year. However, in Europe today, this fundamental right – the right to be assisted and represented by a lawyer, if ever you are suspected of having committed a crime, or arrested – this right is still not guaranteed everywhere in the European Union.
One of the most important ways to guarantee the right to a fair trial and the right of the defence is to have the right to a lawyer representing your interests from the outset of criminal proceedings. This will now become a reality for everyone in the EU. This Directive means that every suspect and accused person will be guaranteed that they will be effectively assisted by a lawyer from their arrest until their trial.
Four important points I would like to highlight:
First, very importantly, the lawyer will not only be present, but can play an active role during the questioning at police station.
Second, the confidentiality of meetings and any forms of communication between the suspect or accused person and the lawyer will be respected. The Commission fought hard for this because the effective exercise of the rights of the defence is of course an essential part of the right to a fair trial.
Third, people subject to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) will have the possibility to seek legal advice in both the country where the arrest is carried out and the country where the Warrant was issued and to which the person may ultimately be surrendered. This is an important safeguard which will help to improve the operation of this very important instrument for fighting cross-border crime in Europe.
And fourth, I would like to mention some other additional safeguards: when a suspect is arrested the new rules will ensure that somebody such as a family member or employer or a person of their choice can be made aware of that arrest. There will be an opportunity for the suspect to communicate with their family. If the suspect is outside of their country, they will have the right to be in contact with their country’s consulate and to receive visits by its staff.
The swift agreement on this file shows Europe's commitment to work for its citizens and deliver. I want to thank Alan for having given priority to the negotiations of this important file. Your negotiation skills with both the European Parliament (and the rapporteur Oana Antonescu – EPP/RO) and the Member States proved essential to achieve this breakthrough.
From justice for citizens, to justice for growth. Another important priority under Ireland’s Presidency and for Alan’s work these past months has been our proposal to modernise the European rules on cross-border insolvencies.
We have made very good progress under the strong steer of the Irish Presidency. The intense work conducted in the past five months has allowed the Council today to adopt political guidelines on key elements of the proposal. I am also pleased to see that both Ireland and the UK have decided to opt in to benefit from this reform.
We are moving towards a stronger focus on restructuring companies instead of liquidating them and on giving viable businesses a second chance. This is a key political message to send at a time where 200,000 firms go bust in the EU each year, resulting in direct job losses of 1.7 million every year. EU wide rules are particularly important when you think that a quarter of these bankruptcies have a cross-border element.
I now want to see us maintain the momentum we have built up so far and advance swiftly so that this reform can be in the statute book without delay. Since this view seems to be shared by the European Parliament, we should make all efforts to adopt the proposal within the current mandate.
I count on the incoming Lithuanian Presidency to treat this file with the same priority as the Irish Presidency has done.
Finally, on a personal note, I would like to repeat my sincere thanks to Alan for his commitment as Justice Minister to making such tremendous progress on these initiatives during Ireland’s Presidency.
You have helped to push forward new initiatives of real value to Europe’s citizens and businesses while also raising important issues such as countering hate crime and intolerance, including racism and anti-Semitism, discussions that we would not have had if not initiated by you at the Informal Council in Dublin earlier this year.
We have achieved a lot together and I look forward to continuing our work under the future Lithuanian Presidency, to whom you shall be passing the baton in this relay.