This week two Politico reporters laid out the problem of having great privacy laws on the books, but not enforcing them. Read their article, and you’ll realise that not all that glitters is gold.
‘If you do only legislation, without the enforcement, you end up with a Potemkin village of shiny regulatory facades, without any substantive results behind them.’
The EU spends a laughable amount of money on enforcing its much-lauded gold standard for data protection, compared to the massive war chests of the tech giants. Setting lofty goals and adopting strict regulation is only half the way to success. Actually upholding and enforcing laws is the second part. If you do only legislation, without the enforcement, you end up with a Potemkin village of shiny regulatory facades, without any substantive results behind them. There are other examples, besides just GDPR.
The infamous Dieselgate scandal revealed that Europe’s car industry cheated the pollution norms and got away with it for years thanks to weak enforcement. The rule of law is vanishing before our eyes in Hungary, with the European Commission and the European Council standing by idly. The Commission upholding anti-discrimination laws? No thank you; too thorny. When member states flout budget discipline or bluntly close borders in the Schengen area, the Commission looks the other way. The list goes on.
There are numbers too. Academic studies show a steep drop in infringement procedures since 2004. One of the key tasks of the European Commission is to guard the EU treaties, and to take EU member states to task if they fail to apply European laws fully and correctly. It has been doing this less, and less. Not because these member states have become more law-abiding. On the contrary, the falling numbers reflect a reluctance to discipline them when needed. Technically speaking, it is at the discretion of the Commission if and how to enforce. However, if enforcement in a number of key areas keeps declining at the current rate, then the EU risks failing on its fundamental promises to the citizens. The European Commission would do well to act more on behalf of EU citizens, than to the 27 governments it has made itself ever more subservient to.
‘The European Parliament should set up a permanent body that scrutinises implementation and enforcement of EU laws and makes sure that the EU delivers on its promises to the citizens.’
Given the situation, the European Parliament needs to play the role of parliamentary watchdog more diligently, if it wants to hold the Commission to account. It is important for a democracy to continuously scrutinise those that have to execute the tasks we set as a society, and who must uphold the laws we make. Currently, this oversight is erratic and ad hoc. It needs to be more thorough and frankly, more systematic. The European Parliament should set up a permanent body that scrutinises implementation and enforcement of EU laws and makes sure that the EU delivers on its promises to the citizens. Let us not just set gold standards, but also actually meet them.