On 12th March 2014, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of new data protection laws. The formal First Reading vote confirms the text of the draft Regulation approved by Parliament's LIBE Committee in October 2013. This is, however, far from the end of the journey to new EU data protection law: the Council of Ministers has yet to finish its review of the Regulation, which must then be agreed with the Parliament.
The Parliament declared that by this resolution:
‘MEPs inserted stronger safeguards for EU citizens’ personal data that gets transferred to non-EU countries in a major overhaul of the EU’s data protection laws voted on Wednesday. The new rules aim both to give people more control over their personal data and to make it easier for firms to work across borders, by ensuring that the same rules apply in all EU member states. MEPs also increased the fines to be imposed on firms that break the rules, to up to €100 million or 5% of global turnover.’
The LIBE Committee Rapporteur, Jan Philipp Albrecht, clearly frustrated at the Council of Ministers slower progress also said:
"I have a clear message to the Council: any further postponement would be irresponsible. The citizens of Europe expect us to deliver a strong EU wide data protection regulation. If there are some member states which do not want to deliver after two years of negotiations, the majority should go ahead without them.”
Vice-President Reding, who proposed the Regulation in January 2012, welcomed the resolution with a similar message directed at the Council:
"The message the European Parliament is sending is unequivocal: This reform is a necessity, and now it is irreversible. …."
The latest resolution is the recognition of a defeat for the initial plan of the Commission and the Parliament’s Rapporteur which was to reach an agreement with the Council in one reading and publish the final Regulation before the Parliament dissolved for the elections in May this year.
We must now await the rolling-out of the full Ordinary Legislative Procedure. The Council of Ministers has yet to reach a common position on the draft Regulation at First Reading. There is no formal time limit for this process. If that position is reached the Parliament has three or possibly four months to approve, reject or amend the Council proposal after which the Council can take three or four months to respond. Failing agreement, a Conciliation Committee is convened and if it can agree a text, then that compromise text is submitted for agreement by the Council and the Parliament. There are many exits from this motorway at which the whole proposal can fail.
This First Reading resolution has crystallised the position of the Parliament; but it has neither prevented a future Parliament from rejecting the whole proposition on a Second Reading, nor compelled the Council to come to any view close to that of the Parliament on crucial points of disagreement.