European privacy reform is stuck

  • The highly criticized plan has little chance of succeeding before the European elections.
  • The Belgian Commission on Privacy is once again sounding the alarm.

A new European regulation on privacy will clearly not materialize anytime soon. Friday, a council of the 28 Justice ministers placed it first on its agenda, but it seems no one sees it as being finalized.

Discussions have been going on for months on a planned legislation designed to adapt privacy law to the new reality of an information society put forward by European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. The text, however, is the object of intense controversy, to the point where internet giants like Amazon and eBay supported thousands of amendments that could empty the text of elements designed to protect individuals online.

“The general impression is that the plan is stuck,” say members of the office of Justice Minister Annemie Turtelboom (Open VLD).  “The chances of success before the end of the European legislative session are extremely small. There is still a huge amount of work to do and the absence of the German government is a real burden.”

The schedule is not in favor of the Luxembourg commissioner. Except for an informal meeting in January, there is only one council meeting next March before the European elections. Without a dramatic development the privacy regulation will not be back on the calendar until after the new Parliament and Commission are in place.

Criticisms persist

Belgium has patched up its relationship with the Commission on this sensitive subject. “Relations with Mrs. Reding’s office are clearly better than they were two months ago,” according to Mrs. Turtelboom’s office. “But, most of the member states still have many questions to resolve.” 

The Belgian Commission on Privacy sent a letter on Thursday to the prime minister and the Justice minister, signed by its president, Willem Debeuckelaere and its vice president, Stefan Verschuere. In the letter, of which Le Soir was made aware, the Commission restates its highly critical and unfavorable position on the regulation. Once again, it lists the dangers that the reform will cause to the protection of fundamental rights of individuals and the legal security that is indispensable to businesses.

According to the Commission, the proposed measures significantly weaken the current rules. Access to judicial recourse for individuals would be discouraged or even made ineffective. The letter also lists the weakness of the single point of contact system envisaged by Viviane Reding, which would lead to absurd situations. For example, banks doing business in the same country would have to answer to different authorities based on where their main offices are located within the European Union.

ALAIN JENNOTTE

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