24th Mar 2018


Data reform more complex than I thought, says EU commissioner

  • A data centre in Lombardy, Italy. The commission wants to establish a 'free flow of data' across the EU (Photo: Leonardo Rizzi)

The EU's ambition to allow data to freely cross borders could be more difficult to realise than it seemed, the EU commissioner for the digital single market has conceded.

“It seems it is more complicated than I thought,” Andrus Ansip told journalists on Friday.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The commission had said it would come up with an "initiative" to create a free flow of data across the bloc before the end of this year, but Ansip said that would come in 2017.

Last year, the commission published a strategy paper about how to move towards a digital single market in the EU. It said there were too many “unnecessary restrictions regarding the location of data within the EU”.

Currently, there are around 50 different national laws all over the EU with rules about storing data, said Ansip. These often require companies to store data in the country they are doing business.

“In some countries they think that data collected in those countries will be really well protected only when they will be able to keep it inside those beautiful countries,” said Ansip.

As a consequence, it is very difficult for small business to operate all over the EU, Ansip said.

“Big companies, they will be able to create their data centres in all 28 member states,” said the former Estonian prime minister.

For European startups, this is “practically impossible”, he noted.

The message the EU is currently sending to its own companies, Ansip said, is: “Stay at home, or go to the United States.”

If these barriers were removed, and storing data in any EU country allowed, this could reduce costs for storing data by some €7.2 billion in five years, Ansip said.

Free flow

In its 2015 strategy paper, the commission announced it would publish “a European ‘free flow of data’ initiative” in the year 2016.

But Ansip said Friday that this initiative would be pushed back to 2017.

“Most likely we will propose a communication in January and then somewhere in June we will continue with a regulation,” said Ansip, although he immediately added that the months he mentioned were only indicative.

In EU-speak, communications are strategy papers which announce what the commission intends to propose – the 2015 digital single market strategy was itself a communication.

"First communication, then concrete action," said Ansip.

This is an approach the commission has taken several times under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker: a non-binding strategy paper first, followed some months later by the actual legislation.

This will allow the commission to test the waters on what it can actually propose that stands a chance of being adopted by the member states and the European Parliament.

“We are able to make the most ambitious proposals in the world, but what's the sense of making the most ambitious proposals if you will not get support from member states or from the European parliament?” said Ansip


One of those less ambitious, more realistic proposals moved forward in the legislative procedure on Monday (28 November).

Ministers adopted a common position on a proposal to ban online shops from discriminating against their customers based on their location.

The proposal on so-called geo-blocking only covered part of what drives some online consumers crazy: not being able to buy something from an EU-based website because of your location.

After the European Parliament has adopted its common position, the two institutions will negotiate on a compromise.

EU unveils '€415bn' digital strategy

Its blueprint foresees €415bn/yr in additional growth. But it's not the first time the EU commission has made big promises on the digital market.

What digital barriers do Europeans still face?

"Mom! I did something illegal!" - as the EU gets set to unveil its new strategy on liberalising the digital single market, what online barriers do Europeans still face?

EU bans 'geo-blocking' - but not (yet) for audiovisual

Online retailers will no longer be able to discriminate against potential customers based on their location in the EU, but the phrase 'this video is unavailable in your region' will remain a common sight in Europe.

EU leaders impatient with digital rules, leak says

'Despite considerable progress, work in this area needs to be accelerated in order to meet this deadline' of finishing the digital single market by the end of 2018, leaked draft conclusions of next week's summit said.

News in Brief

  1. EU wants 'Paris' climate strategy within 13 months
  2. Workload of EU court remains high
  3. Spain's supreme court charges Catalan separatist leaders
  4. EU calls for 'permanent' exemption from US tariffs
  5. Summit backs guidelines for future EU-UK talks
  6. Macron support drops as public sector workers go on strike
  7. EU leaders condemn Turkey for illegal actions in Aegean Sea
  8. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. Nordic states discuss targeted Russia sanctions
  2. Commission sticks to its line on Barroso case
  3. Germany and France promise new Russia sanctions
  4. EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'
  5. Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK
  6. EU leaders roll over Brexit talks amid Trump and Russia fears
  7. Europe needs corporate tax reform - a digital tax isn't it
  8. EU data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections