Sunday

26th May 2019

Austria accused of undermining new EU data law

  • Some 24 EU states are still not ready for the general data protection regulation (GDPR), which is due to come in at the end of May (Photo: Pixabay)

Three years ago Austria's justice minister complained that the EU's forthcoming data protection rules were too weak. Today, the right-wing government in Vienna says they are too strong.

Austria's governing conservative OVP and far-right FPO parties passed a law last month that critics have said complicates enforcement of new EU-wide data protection rules set for an end of May launch.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who steered the new rules through the European Parliament, told EUobserver on Thursday (3 May) the changes reflect the conservative government under chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

"Before it was OVP and SPO, who were still very much in the mood of having strong data protection along with Austrian standards, which are very high... now, with the Kurz and the FPO, I think the policy has completely changed," he said.

Albrecht said the governing parties in Vienna are trying to turn the country into a sort of 'safe haven' - by complicating enforcement of the new EU data rules, known as the general data protection regulation (GDPR).

Those new EU rules will be enforced as of 25 May by the national data protection authorities and aim, among other things, to hand back the control of personal data to citizens.

Austria's data protection authority (DPA) is led by Andrea Jelinek - who is also slated to become the head of the upcoming European Data Protection Board.

The board will be key to imposing the new rules.

New law

But the new Austrian law demands Jelinek first issues warnings before launching sanctions against violating firms. Heise.de, which first reported the last minute amendments, said it means most infringements will go unpunished.

Imposing such a rule may be seen as government encroachment or as an effort to sow confusion given data authorities are supposed to be entirely independent. The move was also noticeably praised by Austrian trade associations.

"In the end it really doesn't make a big difference," admitted Albrecht, noting that the DPA will still be able to issue sanctions without warnings if there is a very severe infringement.

But he pointed out that the GDPR says sanctions are imposed by DPAs without any condition, and without a room for specification, or changes to member states' law.

Matthias Schmidl, deputy head of the Austrian Data Protection Authority, told EUobserver in an email that they will still decide on a case-by-case basis whether to impose administrative fines or not - even if it is the first violation.

He also said that "the wording of the said provision is very open and allows an interpretation" within the EU regulation.

Lack of preparation?

But such issues and others are also raising serious concerns on how prepared those meant to enforce the new data rules will actually be.

Earlier this year, EU commissioner for justice Vera Jourova warned that only Austria and Germany had so far passed the national laws needed to ensure data protection authorities are fully equipped to give GDPR teeth.

Sweden and Slovakia have since passed similar laws - while everyone else is lagging behind, according to the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).

It noted, in a blog post last week, that EU states need to spell out exemptions in national laws, regarding certain categories of data dealing with things such as ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

Among the biggest laggards, it also noted, are home countries to EU justice commissioner Jourova (Czech Republic) and digital commissioner Mariya Gabriel (Bulgaria).

This article was updated at 10:55 on Monday (7 May). The original article stated that Belgium had updated its national law to ensure its data protection authority is ready to enforce GDPR, when in fact it is Sweden.

26 EU states not ready for data law

The European Commission on Wednesday said only Austria and Germany have passed the relevant draft laws needed to ensure the launch of the EU's general data protection regulation on 25 May:

Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline

The EU starts enforcing its general data protection regulation on 25 May - but Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia won't be ready. The delay will cause legal uncertainty.

Focus

Are EU data watchdogs staffed for GDPR?

The success of the new general data protection regulation (GDPR) will depend on whether data protection authorities enforce the new rules - which, in turn, will be at least partly determined by how many people they employ.

News in Brief

  1. Former EU climate chief cheered by 40,000 activists in Denmark
  2. UK's May announces June 7 resignation date
  3. Ireland votes for EU election and divorce referendum
  4. Report: May to announce resignation plan on Friday
  5. Leading politicians: time for EU to have female leaders
  6. Poll: Finland's Green party to surge in EU elections
  7. High demand for postal voting in Denmark
  8. Some EU citizens turned away at UK polling stations

Opinion

A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Thunberg: We can still fix climate, but must start today
  2. Turnout up in Slovakia, with pro-EU liberals scoring high
  3. Belgium votes in hybrid EU-national election
  4. Irish greens take Dublin in second EU exit poll
  5. EU election results to trigger top jobs scramble This WEEK
  6. Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'
  7. EU says goodbye to May with 'respect'
  8. Strache scandal: how big a hit will Austrian far-right take?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us