EU Flash: Digital Day 2018, the European Blockchain Partnership, a New Deal for Consumers and Whistle-blower protection rules

09/05/2018

Tijdens Digital Day 2018 besprak de Europese Commissie de samenwerking tussen de lidstaten op het digitale front. 22 Europese landen hebben een verklaring ondertekend over de oprichting van een Europees Blockchain Partnership. De Europese Commissie heeft ook een voorstel voor een "New Deal" voor consumenten gelanceerd om de consumentenrechten en de handhaving ervan in de EU te versterken, alsook een voorstel voor een nieuwe wet om de bescherming te waarborgen van klokkenluiders die schendingen van de EU-wetgeving melden.

Hieronder vindt u een Engelstalige samenvatting van deze onderwerpen.

Digital Day 2018: EU countries increase cooperation on the digital front

During Digital Day 2018, the European Commission brought together ministers, representatives of EU countries, industry, academia and civil society representatives to encourage cooperation in artificial intelligence, blockchain, eHealth and innovation. Discussions focussed on how the technological developments will shape the future of Europe and building a strong Digital Single Market with increased investment and digital skills is crucial.

Highlights of Digital Day 2018 include declarations aimed at:

  • Joining forces on artificial intelligence (AI): cooperation between EU countries, including for using the highest data protection standards, to bring the benefits of AI - such as better healthcare, safer transport and a more competitive industry - to EU society and economy.
  • Building a European partnership in blockchain technologies: the European Commission intends to establish a European Blockchain Partnership to promote interoperable infrastructures to enhance trusted digital services.
  • Sharing data to personalise healthcare: the eHealth declaration aims at linking access to existing and future genomic databases across the EU which will help to advance research in rare diseases, cancer, disease prevention and other conditions.
  • Encouraging innovation with the help of a new online tool: the Innovation Radar can help match innovators with those who can help get their innovations to market.

European countries join Blockchain Partnership

On April 10th, 22 European countries signed a Declaration on the establishment of a European Blockchain Partnership. The Partnership will be a vehicle for cooperation amongst Member States to exchange experience and expertise in technical and regulatory fields and prepare for the launch of EU-wide blockchain applications across the Digital Single Market for the benefit of the public and private sectors. This should ensure that Europe continues to play a leading role in the development and roll-out of blockchain technologies.

Close cooperation between Member States can help avoiding fragmented approaches and can ensure interoperability and wider deployment of blockchain-based services.

The European Commission also launched the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum in February 2018 and has already invested more than EUR 80 million in projects supporting the use of blockchain in technical and societal areas. Around EUR 300 million more are to be allocated to blockchain by 2020.

A New Deal for Consumers: European Commission strengthens EU consumer rights and enforcement

The European Commission launched a proposal for a New Deal for Consumers to better enforce consumer protection rules and ensure that all European consumers fully benefit from their rights under Union law, thus delivering a fairer Single Market that benefits consumers and businesses.

Strengthening consumer rights online

The New Deal for Consumers will increase transparency in online market places and on search results on online platforms. Consumers will have to be clearly informed about whether they are buying products or services from a trader or from a private person. Online marketplaces will have to inform the consumers when a search result is being paid for by a trader.

The proposal also aims to extend the 14-day withdrawal right to “free” digital services for which consumers provide their personal data, but do not pay with money, e.g. cloud storage services, social media or email accounts.

Tools for consumers to enforce their rights and get compensation

Under the New Deal for Consumers it will be possible for a qualified entity to seek redress, such as compensation, replacement or repair, on behalf of a group of consumers that have been harmed by an illegal commercial practice.

Such representative actions will not be open to law firms, but only to entities such as consumer organisations that are non-profit and fulfil strict eligibility criteria, monitored by a public authority, so as to avoid abusive or unmerited litigation.

Consumers will also have the right to claim individual remedies when they are affected by unfair commercial practices, such as aggressive or misleading marketing.

Effective penalties for violations of EU consumer law

Under the proposal, national consumer authorities will have the power to impose penalties. The maximum fine will be 4 % of the trader's annual turnover in each respective Member State.

Tackling dual quality of consumer products

The New Deal for Consumers will update the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive in order to make explicit that national authorities can assess and address misleading commercial practices involving the marketing of products as being identical in several EU countries, if their composition or characteristics are significantly different.

Improved conditions for businesses

The New Deal will remove unnecessary burden for businesses, including by lifting obligations on companies as regards the consumer's withdrawal right (e.g. returning used products no longer allowed).  The new rules also introduce more flexibility in the way traders can communicate with consumers (via web forms or chats instead of e-mail).

Whistle-blower protection: European Commission sets new, EU-wide rules

The European Commission is proposing a new law to guarantee a high level of protection for whistle-blowers who report breaches of EU law.

The proposal includes:

  • Protection for a wide range of EU law breaches: the proposal introduces a minimum standard to ensure EU-wide protection for blowing the whistle on breaches of EU legislation.
  • Clear Mechanisms and Obligations for Employers: companies and public administrations must set up protection mechanisms including: clear and safe reporting channels, a three-tier reporting system (internal reporting, reporting to competent authorities, public/media reporting) as well as prevention of retaliation and effective protection.
  • Effective Safeguards: the proposal protects responsible whistleblowing genuinely intended to safeguard the public interest. It therefore includes safeguards to discourage malicious or abusive reports and prevent unjustified reputational damage.
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