As the dust is slowly settling following a wave of national emergency measures that were implemented in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19 in Europe, the European Commission is working on reaching a higher level of coherence across the EU. EU Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, stressed that any emergency measures taken amid the pandemic “need to be necessary and proportionate” so that “we come out of this crisis with the same level of democracy and the same capacity to protect our values as we did when entering the crisis”.
From increased dialogue with member states to possible infringement procedures, the Commission is not afraid to use all tools at its disposal to safeguard Europe’s values also in times of crisis. The Commission has also provided member states with a toolbox for the implementation of COVID-19 tracing-apps to ensure the full application of the General Data Protection Regulation and guarantee the trust of EU citizens.
Commissioner Reynders is also working towards reaching higher requirements for due diligence in the supply chain of companies working in the European Union. Similar to possible EU-wide rules on the use of artificial intelligence, the aim is not to shield Europe from the rest of the world, but to offer a framework that allows all actors working in Europe to be in compliance with EU-wide policies such as the GDPR or the rule of law in general.
With the EU mandate in place, the ‘In Conversation With’ series provides an opportunity to engage with the new college of commissioners. It will feature interactive interview style discussions with our multi-stakeholder audience and our ecosystem of diverse members from the private, public and civil society sectors and also engage with Ursula von der Leyen’s priority to be closer to citizens. We will also harvest questions, concerns and ideas from citizens across Europe from our 5 million user, online platform – Debating Europe, and put these to the commissioners. We will conduct video interviews to be shared on Debating Europe as part of a follow up debate, allowing citizens to react.
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Tracing and data sharing can go in a number of ways. If there’s a shared ethical approach across the EU, in which individual freedoms, privacy and accountability in the implementation of these big data initiatives are taken into consideration, then citizens and consumers will experience a consistency in how they are being treated and respected, and will likely trust more. However, in the absence of solidarity, and an agreement to abide by the values of the EU, there will be regional and national differences within Europe, justified only by political intent and motive. For both citizens and the private sector, this will create an uneven and splintered market and context for tackling the current and future crises. Such a shared ethical approach is also at the core of the newly born Commission ‘due diligence’ guidance aiming at making businesses across Europe act according to their environmental impact and their human rights obligations. Closely linked to the EU Green Deal, such due diligence obligations could become an essential part of the economic recovery.
- What are the incentives and sanctions to play by the rules of the EU game?
- How can the private sector play a more significant part in data and consumer safety and protection – a GDPR plus model?
- Can greater EU wide citizen engagement provide an antidote to the uneven application of the rule of law?
European Commissioner for Justice
Director, Asia, Peace, Security & Defense, Digital & Chief spokesperson
Within his mandate as EU Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders is responsible for ensuring the upholding of the rule of law across the Commissions portfolio including the digital transformation, the green transition as well as the rights of SME and consumer empowerment and protection. The full implementation and enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation and its global outreach is part of these efforts. A lawyer by training, Didier has more than 20 years of political experience. He formerly served as the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, as well as Minister for Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Finance.
Prior to joining Friends of Europe, Dharmendra Kanani was director of policy at the European Foundation Centre (EFC). He was the England director at the Big Lottery Fund, the largest independent funder in the UK and fourth largest in the world. Dharmendra has held senior positions in the public and voluntary sector and advisor to numerous ministerial policy initiatives across the UK.
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