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The UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling  has given the closest indication yet  that the EU  reform of data protection law, known as the Data Protection Regulation, is in political difficulty. Speaking on the BBC Radio Today Programme,  Mr Grayling revealed certain aspects of the British position and  hinted that a difference between the UK and Germany is at the root of a divide in the Council.

 Chris Grayling was being interviewed yesterday on the Today Programme  prior flying off  to a meeting of the EU Justice Ministers that takes place  in Vilnius  today.  On the agenda for the meeting is the reform of data protection in the European Union.

 This was an informal meeting organised by the presidency, but it is at these kinds of meetings where positions in the Council begin to be negotiated.

 Chris Grayling’s  comments are  interesting because they cast light onto the shady world of the Council positioning on this issue, and especially on the reported divisions between Member States.

 Mr Grayling  said that the UK is  would prefer a different legal route  from the one proposed by the Commission and which is already being processed by the European Parliament. The UK  does not favour a Regulation, which would be imposed on all 28 Member States at once, in the same way: “we have argued for a Directive not a Regulation” he said. His words  confirm my previous report EU data privacy reform – does the Council have the political will? .

 Mr Grayling put forward an argument that small businesses need protection from an increase in red tape that, he suggested, could result from what he seemed to be calling an   ‘absurdly draconian law’. “The Commission is trying to legislate for Google and Facebook” he said, but in his opinion, the law could cost UK small businesses an extra £700 million per year.

 He said that the UK is looking for  more balance and flexibility in the  proposal. 

 Another issue that he raised was the prospect of imposing new liaibilities onto small businesses and non-proft campaign groups for data protection and data erasure under the ‘right to be forgotten’ provisions.

  “if you are running a campaign on Facebook to save the local post office, are you then liable to delete data? “ he said. Mr Grayling said that the ‘right to be forgotten’ is  a ‘great principle that sounds fine at a high level’  but when you look at the detail there are unintended consequences that may make it less attractive.

 What’s also interesting is  that Chris  Grayling has suggested that there is a political problem with the Data Protection Regulation as it currently stands:

 ‘The data protection rules have run into the mire’ he said,  'The Commission is trying to use security agency activity to re-activate its proposal’

 The expression 'in the mire' means 'in difficulties'. However, it is not clear why Mr Grayling  would think the proposal was being ‘re-activated’ when it currently ‘live’ and  in First Reading in the European Parliament – unless, the proposal really has fallen into a chasm in the Council as I previously reported ( see EU data privacy reform – does the Council have the political will? )

 Mr Grayling indicated  that there is a difference of opinion in the Council between the UK and the German governments. According to him, the Germans are focussing  on the public sector whereas the UK appears to be arguing from the business standpoint.

The political significance is that the European Parliament rapporteur wants to wrap up the Regulation  by thrashing out an  agreement with the Council before  next spring.  (See Closed-door trilogues are on the data privacy agenda ).  Brussels insiders have already hinted that this is unlikely. This confirmation of the UK position would certainly  raise the bar to that happening.


For more on the EU legislative process and how the European Parliament and Council of Ministers work, see my bookThe Copyright Enforcement Enigma

This is an original article from and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, 2013,   EU data privacy reform “in the mire” says UK Minister 19 July  2013. Commercial users - please contact me.


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In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.

Don't miss Iptegrity!  RSS/ Bookmark is the website of Dr Monica Horten. She is a policy analyst specialising in Internet governance & European policy, including platform accountability. She is a published author & Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on  Internet Freedom. She has worked on CoE, EU and UNDP funded projects in eastern Europe and the Caucasus. In a voluntary capacity, she has led UK citizen delegations to the European Parliament. She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012.

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