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Justice Council: We need a simple Solution for Citizens and Business on Data Protection

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner| Press Conference at the Justice and Home Affairs Council /Brussels

6 December 2013

Today’s Justice Council meeting can be easily summarised: It was a disappointing day for data protection but an excellent day for other justice for growth measures!

Let me start with the good news first: Today Ministers found political agreement on two important files that will help the European economy.

Cross-border debt recovery

Thanks to the agreement on the European Account Preservation Order, in future citizens and business will be able to recover cross-border debt in Europe, simpler, cheaper and faster.

I remember three years ago, I was standing in the European Parliament during my hearing as Commissioner-designate for Justice saying we needed a European procedure for the recovery of debts across borders. Three years down the line, we’ve done it!

The recovery rate of cross-border debt is only 37%. How can we expect businesses or citizens to want to do business in our single market if more than 60% of debt remains uncovered in a cross-border situation?

European companies lose around 2.6% of their turnover a year to bad debts. Up to €600 million a year in debt is unnecessarily written off because businesses find it too daunting to pursue expensive, confusing lawsuits in foreign countries. Most of these companies are SMEs, the backbone of our economy.

The European Account Preservation Order offers solutions to these problems.

Today’s breakthrough on the European Account Preservation Order is a breakthrough for Europe’s small businesses. Because in these economically challenging times, companies need quick solutions to recover outstanding debts.

This will boost the confidence of business and consumers to make full use of cross-border trade in the single market.

Patent protection

The second good news is that Justice Ministers also reached a general approach on another important Justice for Growth initiative: completing the legal framework for Europe-wide patent protection, by updating EU rules on the jurisdiction of courts and recognition of judgements (the so-called “Brussels I Regulation”).

What sounds very technical and complicated, is actually simple and vital: it’s the missing piece in the puzzle to make the unitary patent work.

By agreeing on changes to the rules on recognition of judgements, we are paving the way for the new Unified Patent Court to begin its work. In the event of a dispute, companies will no longer have to launch actions before a number of courts in different countries.

Removing bureaucratic obstacles, extra costs and the legal uncertainty of having 28 different and often contradictory systems makes the single market more attractive. This is a very good example of how justice policies can stimulate growth.

Data Protection Reform

Finally, I’d like to say a few words on the Data Protection Reform.

I remember October: it was an excellent month for data protection:

  • Ministers in the Council reached a general agreement on the one-stop-shop principle which is one of the central pillars of our reform. They agreed that one national data protection authority has to be in charge of a company and of citizens’ complains – not 28 or more;
  • the European Parliament voted to strongly back and even re-enforce the Commission’s data protection proposals;
  • and In October EU heads of state and government at the summit committed to a “timely” adoption of the data protection legislation.

Thanks to the intense work of the European Parliament, national politicians and Mr Snowden, we were almost there. A strong data protection framework that responds to the needs of citizens and at the same time a simple framework that responds to the needs of business was in reach.

Today, I must say, we have moved backwards.

Instead of seeing the wood for the trees Ministers got bogged down in details with the solution that even after three months of discussions on the one-stop-shop principle there is still no workable solution on the table.

You know that I have always been vocal calling for a swift agreement on the data protection. But today I must say: not at any cost. I want a win-win deal for citizens and businesses.

I cannot support a one-stop-shop that would become an empty shell.

This Council has been a missed opportunity.

I wonder how Ministers will face citizens back home, who are calling for stronger and uniform data protection rules in Europe?

But fortunately this is not a question that I have to answer.

I know that the Greek Presidency will put the file back on track: 10 full-day working meetings on data protection are already scheduled! This is what I call a seized opportunity.