Competitive Europe - Café Crossfire
Europe’s data protection future: Prospects and implications for business


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Below is the Summary of the report, highlighting particular outcomes and future recommendations that were a result of the discussions.

To see photos of this debate visit our Flickr gallery (below, right). For video interviews with some of the speakers click here.

Executive Summary
Europe’s digital economy has become a top priority for policymakers in recent years, asserted the panellists at Friends of Europe’s Café Crossfire debate, held in Brussels on 7 February.

The European Commission’s proposal – released on 25 January – to create a regulation to replace the 1995 directive on data protection has arrived in due time, offered moderator Giles Merritt, Secretary General of Friends of Europe. “The rules that are to be changed were set in 1995,” he elaborated, “at a time when less than 1% of Europeans used the internet.”

As Europe’s internet economy has adapted to both the increase and diversification of internet users, so must Europe’s institutions and legislation, explained Martin Selmayr, Head of Cabinet to Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.

The Commission’s proposal aims to “bring the 1995 rules into the modern world” by abolishing outdated bureaucratic mechanisms and going a long way towards completing the internal market, strengthening trust in the handling of data and providing the European Union (EU) with a stronger and more unified position in the international debate on how to best protect privacy, he added.

While some are quite optimistic about the proposed regulation and the possibility therein for finding a balance between upholding citizens’ fundamental right to data privacy and improving commercial efficiency, doubt remains as to the new regulatory framework’s implementation as well as its capacity to address pressing issues in both areas, the participants heard.

“I am worried that we are creating a monster here,” opined Christopher Millard, Professor of Privacy and Information Law, Queen Mary, University of London. “It is not unreasonable to look back at history and see how long it took to get clarity under the current directive.” There are several issues which were not resolved by the 1995 directive, he emphasised, suggesting that the new regulation likewise falls short of necessary legislation in some key areas.

The issue of data protection in Europe must be dealt with very carefully in the business world, affirmed Greg Polad, EU Representative of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) and Head of TMT Practice at FTI Consulting, particularly as regards small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

It behoves the EU to create an environment where the digital market is not encumbered to the point where innovation becomes impossible. “We all agree that having a single regulation makes sense, if it is well done,” he explained. “Give SMEs one rule and make it clear. Then they can focus on innovation.”

More than anything, data protection is a policy area with far-reaching implications for many actors in European society, asserted Antigoni Papadopoulou MEP, Member of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. With this in mind, she cautioned, “we need an open dialogue between all the parties involved in order to improve the Commission’s proposal and make the new data protection regulation effective for all.”
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