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Legislation fit for the digital age: What lessons can we learn from the last EU legislature?

At the GDV’s “Legislation fit for the Digital Age” event in Brussels, representatives of industry, consumers and the European institutions took stock of the many digital regulations adopted in recent years and shared their recommendations for fit legislation in the future.

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Over the past five years, the European Commission has taken on the major challenge of proposing overarching legislation for artificial intelligence, data, cyber resilience and gatekeeper platforms to create a common European digital rulebook. This set the scene for our lively GDV panel discussion 'Legislation fit for the digital age', where high-level speakers debated the principles for robust, trustworthy and future-proof digital legislation that can balance protection and innovation in Europe.

Major achievements for the EU’s Digital Single Market

After years of negotiations, the European Union has adopted its first comprehensive digital regulatory framework that balances innovation, competitiveness and the rights of individuals. This in itself is a major achievement, said Yvo Volman, Director at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, as it prevents the fragmentation of the EU's digital single market due to divergent legislation in different EU Member States. “This framework, complemented by the funding programmes for the deployment of new technologies ensures that innovation remains front and centre in the European digital agenda”.

These regulations are particularly timely, as the COVID pandemic and Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine brought digital technologies to the forefront of Europeans' daily lives and the continent's security.

Balance between protection and innovation

The establishment of the EU's digital rulebook has also raised questions about the delicate balance between innovation and protection. Stefan Gehring, General Counsel and Group Compliance Officer of Munich Re, emphasised that rules should be streamlined and act as catalysts for progress rather than barriers. Frederico Oliveira da Silva, Acting Head of Digital Rights at BEUC stressed that legislation is crucial in digital markets to address the gross imbalances that currently put consumers at a massive disadvantage. In addition, the enforcement of principles-based legislation at a technical level may prove difficult for both institutions and industries, notwithstanding potential overlaps or inconsistencies between horizontal rules and sectoral implementation.

Making legislation more effective and coherent

There was a consensus that the next European Commission should prioritise more effective and coherent legislation to safeguard competitiveness and innovation. Kai Zenner, Head of Office to Member of the European Parliament Axel Voss, said the key to tackling the emergence of numerous well-intentioned yet somewhat incoherent digital laws is to return to the 'Better Regulation' principles while trying to better align the various new legal frameworks during their implementation phase. This sentiment was also shared by Vincenzo Renda, Director for Single Market and Digital Competitiveness at Digital Europe who emphasised that the EU should transition from creating digital regulations to harmonizing and effectively implementing them.

Against this background, the development of digital skills, stronger impact assessments and the implementation of technical standards will be essential to make European legislation fit for the digital age across all sectors.

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