The European Commission debunks Belgium’s “seven myths”

  • According to the Commission, which is defending itself tooth and nail, Belgium has misunderstood its plan.
  • Meanwhile, Europe is far from a consensus on planned regulations on data protection.

The Belgian Privacy Commission’s forceful statement in Le Soir on Thursday made the European Commission hit the ceiling. In that interview, the Belgian regulator strongly attacked the proposed regulations on the protection of personal data put forward by the Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding. During a press event on Thursday organized in reaction to the article, a senior Commission official said they had “found at least seven items that are factually incorrect in the Privacy Commission’s critique,” referring to the Belgian position’s “seven myths.”

The text, which the Commission wants to have adopted by the European Parliament before the end of the legislative session, will replace current national legislation on the protection of personal data. It calls for the right to oblivion and one office to handle complaints. The Commission dismisses the idea that people would have to “take an airplane to plead their case in Dublin,” in case of a dispute regarding the use of their data by Google or Facebook, whose headquarters are in Ireland. Complaints can still be taken to national courts, which will then bring the case to the relevant authorities in the appropriate country. The Commission also thinks that “delegated actions,” similar to Belgian royal decrees, will not give them a blank check and that nothing will be done without review by Parliament and the Council. She also argues the idea that local authorities responsible for data will be weakened by the new rules, as the Belgian regulator believes.

Serious reservations

The topic will be discussed during a meeting of the Justice ministers in Luxembourg on Monday. The 28 member states are far from agreement on the text. While some countries, such as Portugal and Poland, are not opposed, other member states have serious reservations, including Belgium.

A few months ago, the federal parliament gave a negative opinion on the text. It was one way of letting the Commission know that it should review its own document. “When the process began, we consulted with all of the representative organizations in Belgium,” explains a source in Annemie Turtelboom’s (Open-VLD) office. “We found that opinion was unanimously against the text. We’re presently negotiating. The Commission has already corrected some points at our request, but there is still a lot to be done.” A meeting between Viviane Reding and Annemie Turtelboom is planned for Monday outside the council.

The calendar is particularly tight, and it’s not clear that the European parliament will deal with this issue. The parliament has to review almost 3,000 amendments, many supported by businesses such as Amazon or EBay, who want to maintain access to the data they collect. “In the United States data is a commodity, while for Europeans, it’s closely tied to the right to privacy,” explains Emmanuel Foulon, from European deputy Marc Tarabella’s (PS) office. The agenda is further complicated by another plan that is taking up the European Commission’s energy – the negotiation of the transatlantic trade agreement with the United States. “France and Germany have said repeatedly that they give priority to the regulation’s quality rather than how quickly it is adopted,” continues our source in Turtelboom’s office. “Belgium agrees.”

ALAIN JENNOTTE

 

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