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4th Dec 2020

Merkel spy row unlikely to speed up EU data law

  • Data map: EU leaders are being pressured to back the data protection regulation in the wake of the latest NSA reveltaions (Photo: luc legay)

An MEPs' gamble to get quick agreement on new data protection laws is likely to fail, EU sources say.

Euro deputies steering the data protection regulation through the parliament decided to skip a plenary debate and to vote on Monday (21 October) to kick start negotiations with member states as soon as possible.

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“The ball is now in the court of member state governments' to agree a position and start negotiations,” said German Green Jan Phillip Albrecht, the rapporteur, after Monday’s vote.

The MEPs are hurrying through the bill amid concerns that if it falls into the next legislature, after May 2014 elections, the new set of deputies on what is now Albrecht's committee will have to start from scratch on the complex set of laws.

But an EU source told this website on Thursday that the deadline is not realistic for member states.

“We still need to find a general approach but we are still discussing at the working party level,” the contact noted.

Meanwhile, an EU diplomat said member states are already using tactics to delay the bill.

“At the technical level, we are hear a lot of noises in terms of ‘quality before timing’, ‘we shouldn’t rush this’, which is basically code words for delaying the whole thing,” the diplomat said.

The contact noted that EU leaders would need to send a very strong signal in support of the bill at this week's summit to meet the election date.

Germany’s position on the legislative proposal has been ambiguous, while France has demonstrated support.

“The French now have been very strong, it might be that they are now being joined by Germany and that we see a strong Franco-German motor but that remains to be seen,” the diplomat said.

Member states are supposed to finalise a general position through a qualified majority vote at the justice and home affairs council in early December.

A partial agreement, while possible, is unlikely given that member states have made repeated claims that no part of the draft regulation can be agreed until the whole text of the regulation is agreed.

NSA scandals upset EU leadership

Meanwhile, the latest revelations in the US snooping scandal are adding to the pressure.

EU justice commissioner Vivane Reding said EU leaders should back the bill following media reports that the US National Security Agency (NSA) tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile and intercepted some 70 million telephone calls in France in the space of just one month.

“Data protection must apply no matter if it concerns the emails of citizens or the mobile phone of Angela Merkel,” Reding told German media.

She said a united front by EU leaders to adopt the data protection package by Spring 2014 would convey a strong message that Europe cares about its citizen's rights, even though the bill could not prevent NSA-type snooping because its scope is different in nature.

Data bill cannot stop NSA

Issues of national security, such as spying by the Americans on Europe, is entirely excluded from the law.

Deputies did introduce a so-called "anti-Fisa" text in a the regulation, referring to the US law which covers foreign espionage, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa).

The companies are not allowed to discuss the US data requests in public, while in the EU, they are required to notify the person in question that the US is requesting their information.

The text was introduced, according to a parliament source, to force the EU and US to create a clear legal framework for companies which are caught between contradicting EU and US obligations on data privacy and data disclosure.

For her part, Merkel told reporters when entering the summit in Brussels on Thursday that "spying among friends - that doesn't work. I said it in June, I said it in July when Obama was in Berlin and told him yesterday on the phone.”

Her foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has also asked his US counterpart for explanations.

But the European Commission, for its part, said there is no indication that the NSA has tapped their phones.

“We have no evidence or doubt about the fact that these lines are fully protected,” said commission spokesperson Olivier Bailly.

The original article implied that it would be against parliament rules to go straight from committee to negotiation with member states. It has since been amended.

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