With European elections and Brexit looming over the horizon, EU lawmakers have a narrowing window in which to carry out their vision of a “digital single market,” unifying rules across the bloc. Their chances of getting everything wrapped up are slim. Here are the main issues to watch in the coming months:
Platforms face (stricter) rules
One area where new laws could be written is platform liability, or the legal responsibility of companies like Facebook and Twitter over hosted content. The Commission is at work on legislation that could force platforms to take down terrorist content within one hour — in line with earlier recommendations — that would be a shift away from voluntary codes of conduct.
Part of the change is due to increased pressure from the U.K., France and Germany. European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip and Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová have become more accepting of the idea that hard rules might be needed to stamp out illegal content.
The Commission is also looking ahead to the European Parliament election next year and preparing to publish a code of conduct over “fake news” as well as recommendations that would push platforms to be more transparent about the sponsors of political advertising.
Despite these efforts to police platforms, the Commission is likely to leave its bazooka option untouched: revising platforms’ exemption from liability, a principle enshrined in Europe’s e-Commerce Directive.
Another hot topic to watch: whether the Joint European Disruptive Initiative (JEDI) — Europe’s plan to develop a civilian version of the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — gets off the ground. JEDI has secured backing from the French and German governments and aims to launch at least three, possibly four, “disruptive innovation” challenges. These would give a target to university research centers — say, developing a replacement for the herbicide glyphosate — and promise them millions of euros in funding if they reach it.
While tightening the leash on platforms, the Commission is looking to draft guidance for regulating artificial intelligence. The EU’s executive arm released its AI strategy in April, focused on investment. By year’s end, the Commission’s 52-member expert group is expected to publish a list of ethics principles for AI technology.
In November, Europe’s attention will focus on Germany, which is expected to publish its own AI strategy. The big plan for Europe’s richest country to start catching up on AI development is currently being drawn up by an expert group inside Angela Merkel’s chancellery.
Europe cannot avoid grappling with negotiations over Britain’s future relationship with the bloc, particularly in regard to data flows. The U.K. plans to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019. And yet, by that date the two sides are not expected to have agreed to security standards governing the exchange of data.
When the U.K. published a “future partnership” paper in July, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government reiterated that the U.K. would leave the EU’s digital single market and develop a partnership covering e-commerce, telecoms, tech and broadcasting. But the government has so far given no indication of when that policy will be published. In the interim, look out for “online safety” laws, expected later this year, as they could show what the U.K. is thinking on e-commerce and platform liability.
International data flows
More broadly, the European Union will try to maintain momentum in efforts to export high security standards for data protection worldwide. The EU and the U.S. start their second annual review of the data transfer agreement “privacy shield” in mid-October. The EU is also looking for support to impose data protection standards in its trade deals — a plan it’s already using in talks with Indonesia, Chile, and possibly Australia and New Zealand.
This article is part of the autumn 2018 policy primer.