Technology

EU member states agree to regulate digital giants

The green light from the Member States to their version of the two laws, including some changes compared to the initial proposal, paves the way for the start of negotiations on the final texts with the European Parliament (trilogue). (Photo: 123RF)

Brussels – The 27 member countries of the EU adopted a common position on Thursday approving in broad strokes the European bill to regulate the Internet and end the abuses of power by the digital giants.

Hate speech spread on a large scale, manipulation of information, death of small businesses… To end the wild west of the Internet, the European Commission proposed two draft regulations in December 2020.

The French Secretary of State for Digital, Cédric O, welcomed the agreement reached in less than a year between the Member States. “Such a quick agreement is exceptional,” he said. These two texts are “perhaps the most important in the history of digital regulation.”

One (“Digital Services Act”, DSA) is intended to fight fraud and illegal content. For example, it will require that the largest platforms have the means to moderate the content they host.

The other refers to the markets (“Digital Market Law”, DMA) and aims to repress the anti-competitive practices of large technology groups, in particular Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft (the “Gafam”).

This text represents a total change in philosophy. After years of vainly pursuing the infringements of these multinationals in endless judicial processes, Brussels wants to act in a bottom-up direction, imposing on them a series of obligations and prohibitions.

The green light from the Member States to their version of the two laws, including some changes compared to the initial proposal, paves the way for the start of negotiations on the final texts with the European Parliament (trilogue).

The latter has yet to define his position. On Tuesday, MEPs had reached an agreement within their Internal Market Committee (Imco) on the WFD and its text should be presented in December to the plenary assembly. Discussions are more complex about the DSA and some fear delays that could lead to disassociating the timing of the two regulations.

“Brutal approach”

France, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union for six months from January, hopes to get the two laws finalized before the summer. The goal is for it to take effect on January 1, 2023.

“The two texts are intimately linked, they are two sides of the same coin, one (the DMA) refers to the economic aspects, the other (the DSA) refers to the social aspects”, Thierry Breton stressed on Thursday, the commissioner of the Internal Market. “We will start the trilogues on the DMA in early January, there is an urgent need to ensure that the DSA also starts very quickly,” he said.

The legislative process was supported earlier this month by Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower. But the tech giants fight to protect their interests.

The lobby of large technology companies, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which had already criticized MEPs’ DMA amendments, warned again on Thursday about the risks posed by overly restrictive rules. “DMA must adapt better to avoid the unintended consequences of a harsh approach,” he said.

In their common position, the Twenty-seven notably strengthened the role of national competition authorities in the WFD – under pressure from large countries such as Germany – by granting them the power to initiate investigations into possible infractions found in their territory.

In the DSA, Member States give the Commission the power to crack down on very large platforms in the event of serious infringements, while until now they are subject to the authority of the country where their European headquarters are located. Ireland, which is home to several large groups, is regularly criticized for its lack of enthusiasm to crack down on these pillars of its economy.

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