11 policy problems on the EU’s fall agenda

Digital business is front and centre in the EU’s thinking…:

Coronavirus isn’t the only problem facing EU officials this fall.

After the global crisis put a lengthy hold on life in Brussels, the back-to-school season is a chance for the EU to regain momentum — in some cases because it has to. There are several policy files on which the bloc needs to make progress this year, even as many officials and diplomats continue to work virtually.

Here’s POLITICO’s guide to 11 files set to dominate the remainder of 2020.

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2. Saving digital trade

After Europe’s top court this summer struck down the transatlantic data flows agreement between the EU and the U.S., the pressure is on the European Commission to come up with another mechanism to keep data flowing across the Atlantic and prevent billions of euros’ worth of digital trade falling into legal limbo.

Yet any deal that fails to address deep concerns about surveillance will be seen as a capitulation by Europe’s privacy hawks.

Washington and Brussels are now in talks to strike an “enhanced EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework” that complies with the July ruling. It looks unlikely that the U.S. will overhaul its surveillance regime, so a new agreement is likely to shore up EU customers’ ability to seek judicial redress against U.S. surveillance powers rather than move the needle on those powers themselves.

In the same period, the Commission must decide whether to accept the U.K.’s data protection regime as adequate. The decision is a tough one to call, with Brussels under pressure to be harder on foreign surveillance regimes following the July ruling.

Key dates: Don’t expect any meaningful progress on a U.S. deal before the November 3 presidential election. For the United Kingdom, the Commission is hoping to wrap up an adequacy decision before the December 31 Brexit deadline.

Key players: Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and Vice President Věra Jourová are the go-to officials on the EU side, and data protection mandarin Bruno Gencarelli is the bloc’s man at the table. The U.S. side is led by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Oliver Dowden heads the U.K. government department responsible for an adequacy decision.

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6. Taming tech giants

The European Commission plans to regulate platforms such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon via the Digital Services Act, a legislative package expected by the end of the year.

One piece of legislation would “clarify a common set of responsibilities” for platforms as part of the effort to limit the appearance of illegal content, products and services online — and the Commission must decide whether it wants the legislation to also cover disinformation.

Another bill will set rules that would curb the power of the largest platforms that often act as gatekeepers between businesses and consumers. Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager is worried about their dual role as both platform and competitor to the companies they host, and said Brussels was considering a list of prohibited behaviors such as self-preferencing.

European Union Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager and Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton Pool photo by Kenzo Tribouillard via Getty Images

An expected charge sheet over allegations that Amazon discriminated against external sellers could prove influential. But those who were hoping the much-anticipated verdict of the EU General Court on the Commission’s €2.42 billion Google Shopping fine would come in the fall may have to wait longer. The ruling is not expected before the spring of next year, a person familiar with this type of procedure said.

Key dates: Commission consultation closes September 8; European Parliament’s civil liberties, internal market and legal affairs committees vote on their respective initiative reports September 28; Parliament plenary votes in October.

Key players: Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton and Commission head of unit Prabhat Agarwal; Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba, German MEP Tiemo Wölken and Belgian MEP Kris Peeters.

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