This week was a case in point, seeing the adoption of the latest Commission DSM package, this time focussing on online consumer protection, geo-blocking and platforms.
(At this juncture it’s worth reminding ourselves that the summer break is almost upon us, meaning that if something doesn’t come soon, it’ll be pushed onto the back burner until September.)
Whilst a series of leaks softened expectations somewhat, these nevertheless represent some of the more fundamental areas the Commission sought to address when it began work in earnest in September 2014.
In short, the Commission proposes not to regulate platforms, preferring a mixture of existing legislation and the carrot of co- and self- regulation. On geo-blocking, the Commission wants to bring online shopping in step with offline sales, and end the practice of denying sales and transactions based on place of residence – with the exception of copyright protected services and actually all electronically supplied services (such as cloud computing) until at least 2018. On matters audio-visual, digital on-demand and streaming services will have to adhere to the same rules as traditional TV broadcasters to protect viewers, guaranteeing a minimum of 20% of their output is European while video-sharing platforms will have to get serious about the protection of minors. Finally, on parcel delivery, the Commission won’t regulate prices, but instead provide guidance to consumers – increasing price transparency and improving regulatory oversight so they are able to make informed choices when looking to deliver goods.
Meanwhile, DG CONNECT – responsible for drafting and delivering many of the DSM proposals –unveiled its new structure, which revealed some interesting changes. In addition to a more general game of musical chairs involving a good chunk of the department’s managers, new units will lead work related to platforms and geo-blocking, and on social media. At the same time, the DG will have to rely on ICT even more in the future with around a hundred additional posts moving from Brussels to Luxembourg over the next two years.
DG Roberto Viola, in situ since 1 September, had hitherto resisted the urge to implement changes on his appointment, preferring instead to keep calm and carry on. But Viola has decided to act now, presumably to reflect the progress made and realities going forward on the legislative measures – and also taking into account the Commission’s decision to shift posts to Luxembourg.
Away from matters Commission; ahead of the of Transport, Telecommunications and Energy (TTE) and Competitiveness Council meetings of 26 May, Monday saw the release of a letter addressed to the Dutch Minister of the Economy, Henk Kamp, signed by 14 Member States. In it, the MS concerned called on the Netherlands presidency remove barriers to the free flow of data so that the EU can derive maximum benefits from the potential brought about by data.
Competitiveness Ministers approved a draft regulation ensuring the cross-border portability of online content services and adopted conclusions on digital single market technologies and better regulation. Over lunch, they discussed progress on DSM issues (digital skills, deployment of high speed network infrastructure) with their telecom ministerial counterparts.
Monday saw the publication of the forthcoming Slovak presidency’s priorities; unsurprisingly, the DSM was highlighted as a priority area and the Slovaks stated their intention to ensure progress on Spectrum, roaming, cross-border parcel delivery, e-Government Action Plan and the telecoms review.
On Tuesday, the EP’s LIBE committee received the European Data Protection Supervisor’s annual report from Giovanni Buttarelli, who expounded the virtues of the EU’s recently implemented data protection rules and requested support for the recent data protection regulation. MEPs noted the work done and raised a number of issues – including those relating to the role technology can play in aiding data protection, the likely timelines for full implementation and also the thorny issue of the EU-US Privacy Shield.
Elsewhere in the Parliament – on Thursday, MEPs voted by 501 votes to 119 (31 abstentions) to encourage further negotiations between the EU and US on the Privacy Shield to improve its legal robustness. The key issues MEPs raised related to US authorities’ access to data; the remit of the US ombudsperson; and the complexities surrounding the redress mechanism.
Away from Brussels – albeit only as far as Amsterdam – Vice President Ansip rubbed shoulders with Google’s Eric Schmidt, Apple’s Tim Cook, Uber’s Travis Kalanick, AirBnB’s Nathan Blecharczyk and many others, at the Startup Fest Europe. The Dutch EU presidency, represented by Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Economics Minister Henk Kamp, were very pleased with the event – and made sure to deflect some of the glory to former Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes, for making it all happen.
Stephen Pearson is Senior Director in FTI Consulting’s TMT team in Brussels.