By: Sophie Noya
On May 22-25, EU citizens elected Members of the European Parliament (“MEPs”) for a five-year term. Several of the key parliamentary decision-makers on the data protection reform have been reelected, including the strongest supporters of far-reaching privacy rights such as the rapporteur, German Green Member Jan Philipp Albrecht, and Dutch Liberal Sophia In’t Veld. More than half of the European Parliament (“EP”) has been renewed, which may give an advantage to experienced MEPs who will try to play a dominant role.
Although the three main parliamentary groups (center-right EPP, center-left Socialists and center Liberals) continue to control two thirds of the seats in the EP, Eurosceptic and nationalist parties gained significant ground at the expense of mainstream parties. These anti-EU parties – which could represent up to 25% of the Assembly – are composed of heterogeneous political formations. This Parliament will therefore be more fragmented than the previous one. In practice, social priorities will become more important and MEPs will likely strengthen their support to citizens’ rights in order to demonstrate that they drew the lessons from the elections outcome.
The EP’s polarization will ultimately require ‘grand coalitions’ to pass legislation. Indeed, the traditional center-right and center-left groups no longer hold an absolute majority of seats in the EP. It means that the political center of gravity is expected to shift from the center to the fringes on controversial issues such as the data protection reform, making the legislative process more unstable and unpredictable.
In March 2014, the European Parliament adopted its first-reading position on the data protection reform, which needs to be approved by the Council before it becomes law. The process is currently blocked at the Council where strong divisions remain. Undoubtedly, the newly-elected EP is set to take an even stronger stand in the negotiations with the Council and the Commission that should ultimately take place. Finally, Commissioner Reding is unlikely to remain in charge of data protection in the new Commission that will take office on November 1, 2014. The choice on her successor will be critical to the final outcome of the reform.