Amidst the drama of a marathon late night European Council summit at the end of June, the six-month Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU quietly drew to a close. What achievements can the Bulgarian presidency celebrate, and what challenges remain for the incoming Austrian and Romanian presidencies before the European elections in 2019?
Perhaps most impressively, the Bulgarian presidency capitalised on the groundwork undertaken by the Estonian presidency to broker an agreement between member states on the Copyright Directive. This legislative file, first presented by the European Commission in 2016, aims to update the EU’s copyright laws to better take into account the way in which people consume and share creative works in the digital age.
The compromise text prepared by the Bulgarian presidency in May walks a very delicate line between those advocating for stronger protections for rightsholders and those championing the rights of end users and limitations on the liability of online platforms. Based on this work, member states agreed by a narrow margin to adopt the text as a basis for trilogue negotiations, which will commence once the European Parliament adopts its position. The fragile consensus may yet collapse: Germany withheld their support from the mandate and stirrings from the new Italian government could alter the arithmetic in the Council in favour of those who oppose the compromise.
The Bulgarian presidency was also able to support important breakthroughs in three-way talks with the Parliament and Commission on two other Digital Single Market files: the free flow of non-personal data Regulation and the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC), although in very different circumstances.
Trilogue talks on the code have been ongoing for many months now, which is hardly surprising given that this mammoth piece of legislation covers everything from co-investment rules for new fibre and mobile networks and harmonised spectrum management to the deployment of 5G networks in Europe and consumer protection measures.
In early June, co-legislators reached a high-level political agreement on the file, approved at the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER) meeting on 29 June. A significant breakthrough on the file will create the conditions for roll-out of EU digital infrastructure to keep pace with global leaders in the US, the Republic of Korea, and China.
The free flow of non-personal data Regulation, on the other hand, flew through trilogue talks with barely a dissenting word. The Council’s position was largely in line with the Parliament (both pushing for a strong line on banning forced data localisation), making the Bulgarian presidency’s job significantly easier. A high-level agreement was reached on the file after only three rounds of trilogue, also signed off at the COREPER meeting.
The Bulgarian presidency was less successful at advancing talks on a number of files which have languished in trilogue for months, namely the Digital Content Directive and the Satellite and Cable Directive. Behind all looms the ePrivacy Regulation, the file with the most disputable ground between legislators in the Parliament and Commission (in favour of the new rules) and the Council, who has urged restraint and sought improvements on many aspects of the draft legislation. Work on this knotty file will fall to the Austrians, known to be among the strongest supporters of the new privacy rules in Council.
Author: Matt Allison, Public Policy Manager, Access Partnership