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European Commission

Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Commissioner for Justice

An important moment for European democracy

Press Point on Data Protection/Strasbourg

22 October 2013

Yesterday's late vote by the LIBE committee is an important moment for European democracy.

The European Parliament has decided to give its full backing for a strong European data protection law that will cut costs for business and strengthen the protection of our citizens: one continent, one law.

The vote is a strong signal: as of today data protection is made in Europe.

The European Commission stood firm when making its proposal. And the European Parliament stood firm when adopting its position. This proves that excessive lobbying can be counter-productive. The European Parliament has stood up for the interests of citizens.

It has been ambitious. It has maintained the high level of ambition set by the European Commission.

This is important. We see on a daily basis, why we need the data protection reform swiftly. Look at what happened yesterday: the NSA spying on French citizens. The European Union has responded not though a declaration but through action.

Let me briefly explain the main pillars of the data protection reform which are all standing and have even been reinforced with yesterday's European Parliament vote.

Pillar one: One continent one law… - with effective sanctions

The new law will be a Regulation, a single law for the whole of Europe – and no longer a Directive resulting in a patchwork of 28 national rules that makes life complicated and costly for companies. Companies will deal with one law, not 28. The benefits are estimated at €2.3 billion per year.

If companies don't play by the rules European regulators will be equipped with strong powers to enforce this: they will be able to fine companies who do not comply with EU rules with up to 2% of their global annual turnover.

The European Parliament has proposed strengthening our proposal by making sure that fines can go up to 5% of the annual worldwide turnover of a company. It is now for Member States to show if they are ready to match the Parliament's ambition and fine those who deal irresponsibly with citizens' data.

Pillar Two: Non-European companies will have to stick to European data protection law if they operate on the European market

For a strong European digital industry to compete globally we need a level-playing field. This is at the heart of the proposed EU data protection Regulation.

Non-European companies, when offering services to European consumers, will have to apply the same rules and adhere to the same levels of protection of personal data. The reasoning is simple: The European market is a goldmine with over 500 million potential customers. Those who want to access it have to play by our rules. This is about fair competition, a principle cherished and promoted on both sides of the Atlantic. The European Parliament agrees.

Pillar Three: The Right to be Forgotten

The data protection reform is about putting citizens in control of their data. At the heart of our reform is therefore the right to be forgotten. In practice this means that if an individual no longer wants his or her personal data to be processed or stored by a company, and if there is no legitimate reason for keeping it, the data should be removed from the system.

The right to be forgotten is of course not an absolute right. There are cases where there is a legitimate reason to keep data in a data base. The archives of a newspaper are a good example. It is clear that the right to be forgotten cannot amount to a right to re-write or erase history. Neither must the right to be forgotten take precedence over freedom of expression or freedom of the media. The proposal therefore includes an explicit provision to ensure it does not encroach on the freedom of expression and information.

The European Parliament endorses all of these provisions. And it reinforces the right to be forgotten by allowing citizens to obtain from third parties (to whom the data have been passed) the erasure of any links to, or copy or replication of that data.

I believe in giving people meaningful rights. Empowerment leads to a return of trust and therefore a "return on investment".

Pillar Four: A "One-stop-shop" for businesses and citizens

The data protection reform stands for simplification. A central element of this is the one-stop-shop. In short: one interlocutor for businesses and citizens, not 28 or more.

First, making it simpler for businesses: companies established and operating in several Member States will only have to deal with a single national data protection authority, in the country where they have their base.

Second, making it simpler for citizens – who will only have to deal with the data protection authority in their member state, in their own language. They will no longer have to get on a plane to Dublin to plead their case, as the Austrian student Max Schrems has to do today.

Ministers have already agreed to this principle at the October Justice Council. And the European Parliament agrees. This is a prime example of what we call smart regulation.

So what's next?

With yesterday's vote the European Parliament has given a strong mandate to its chief negotiators, Jan-Philipp Albrecht and Dimitrios Droutsas, to enter into discussions with the Council of Ministers, the EU's second Chamber.

Yesterday's vote is also a strong signal to Europe's leaders who will on Thursday and Friday discuss the importance of the data protection reform for Europe's digital single market. The European Parliament has thrown down the gauntlet – European leaders must now rise to the challenge. Heads of State and government should make clear that common European data protection rules are very much needed and that they are needed now.

The message is clear: this vote is Europe's declaration of independence. A declaration that for Europe and in Europe data protection is not just a concept. It is a fundamental right – soon to be backed by a fundamental law.

I congratulate the European Parliament for its strength and ambition. Europe's citizens deserve nothing less.

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