Wednesday 11 September 2013

218 days to save the Regulation

There are just 218 days to go until 17 April 2014, which is when European Parliamentarians hold their final sitting. Then, they pack up their bags and they go home. Some will do a spot of campaigning while they wait for the results of the European elections, which will be held between 22 and 25 May. 

Parliamentary business that has not been concluded will disappear. Work on new legislative proposals will resume shortly before Parliamentarians embark on their 2014 summer break.

Compare this time period with what has happened in the 595 days that have passed since Commissioner Reding announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have done it”. What had she done? Well, on 25 January 2012 she had unveiled the draft Regulation, containing that infamous set of proposals for a comprehensive reform of Europe’s data protection law. Now, how many hours of debate have we actually seen in the Chamber of the European Parliament on this issue in the past 595 days? Or in the European Parliamentary committee rooms?

I do pay tribute to the long, long hours spent by so many public officials in private sessions trying to thrash out a text that meets the needs of citizens. I’m not suggesting for one moment that they have not worked sufficiently hard or with sufficient determination. I understand that, during one particularly fraught set of negotiations, one delegation arrived in the meeting room complete with a camp bed to demonstrate their dedication to the cause.  (Or it might have been to protest at the long hours that they were putting in - I was laughing so loud at the first part of the tale that I didn’t hear the end.)

So much had been done – but there is so much more that needs to be done, too.

So I ask you – is there really sufficient time in the next 218 days for the European Parliament to comprehensively review the proposals, agree on amendments, discuss their suggestions with the version currently under consideration by the Governments of Member States, and pass legislation that will bind a generation of European citizens to a new data protection law? 

Given what we know of where the negotiations are?

I don’t think so.

But perhaps, like Baldrick, the Commission has a cunning plan.

Perhaps the plan (like one of Baldrick’s) is to invent a time machine that will take us back to 26 January 2012 so that the European Parliament will have another 813 days to work out what to do.

Or perhaps the Commission will rush proposals through the European Parliament to change the current Gregorian calendar to introduce a new way of measuring time, one where legislative proposals can be considered in a time warp of their own.

Or, as a diversionary tactic, perhaps it’s time to admit that this version of the Regulation isn’t going anywhere, but there is a little device called a Directive that might stand a chance of making its way into law – because, with Directives, Member States can ignore the bits they don’t like exercise their own margin of appreciation over the way the rules will be implemented and enforced in their own country.

When will we be told that this draft is a gonner?

I’m reminded of the wonderful verse in “Paradise by the dashboard light”

Before we go any further. Do you love me? Will you love me forever? Whats it gonna be boy? Come on...I can wait all night... Whats it gonna be boy... yes or no?

The first European Commissioner to publicly announce that this measure isn’t going to be getting anywhere will certainly be getting my vote come the next elections.

So how will we feel when news of the demise of the Regulation, to be replaced by a Directive (at some stage in the future) finally comes through?

As Meatloaf might have put it:

We couldn't take it any longer, Lord we were crazed
And when the news came upon us like a tidal wave
We started swearing to our God and on our mothers’ grave
We’d love the EU to the end of time
We swore we’d love the EU to the end of time

I gratefully acknowledge the inspiration from James Dixon Barnes, who wrote a similar ditty for Meatloaf.

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