News | 2017

I. EU to regulate drones

The EU institutions and Member States governments are considering various options and regulatory tools to propose suitable rules for drone operation in the European Union. The European Commission, the body responsible for issuing the formal proposal, has recently confirmed that a drone regulation is necessary and would be up and running as 2019.

The proposal is set to balance the need for safe drone utilization as well as the necessary framework for the development of the drone sector. The EU rules are expected to require compulsory drone registration as well as drone identification. Drones will also face limits both in terms of their place of operation and altitude. It is also widely believed that rules that apply today to the airline industry, such authorization and tracking will also spillover to drones. There have also been calls for a drone license for operators.

Member states and the European Parliament will soon scrutinize the proposal and eventually approve the rules that would apply to drones across the EU.

II. EU access to encrypted data

At the turn of the year, the European Commission made a proposal for a regulation focusing on the protection of personal data in electronic communication, the so-called ePrivacy Regulation.

Currently, the ePrivacy Directive ensures the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector, especially the protection of confidentiality of communications, in line also with the Data Protection Directive.

The ePrivacy Regulation proposal will repeal the ePrivacy Directive and modernise data protection. It will establish a legal framework, which takes account of the important technological and economic developments in the electronic communication sector, such as new services of interpersonal communications and machine-to-machine communications.

Member states want easier access to encrypted data as part of investigative police investigations. EU countries also want companies to develop new technology and tools to improve the automatic detection and removal of content that incites to violence. The European Parliament has recently challenged and demanded that authorities in the EU cannot break the electronic protection.

The final piece of legislation will require the approval of the European Parliament and Council.

III. EU to block foreign investments

In February 2017, three Member States (France, Germany and Italy) sent a letter to the European Commission demanding greater EU powers to control, and if necessary block, third country takeovers. This because many European companies face restriction to buy foreign companies. But this is not the case with foreign firms. On the contrary, they are increasingly buying European firms, in key strategic sectors.

In the recent European Summit, Member States welcomed the European Commission’s proposal to analyse investments from third countries in key and sensitive sectors. Overall, Member States support the European Commission to have some role in screening investments. Yet Member States oppose giving the European Commission veto powers. Member States wish to retain the power to assess and protect key sectors.

The EU is determined to improve further the framework to control strategic investments. We expect further details in the field of foreign investments in September. Further information will emerge on what the EU mechanism would entail and how it would work in practice, next to the national screening competences.

IV. EU considers food labelling

Back in 2008, the European Commission issued a proposal for legislation on providing food information to consumers. The proposal was approved. It included food labelling rules and nutritional information. But Members of the European Parliament rejected a mandatory system that would have labelled food based on the traffic light system.

The idea is now gaining momentum once again. Under the rumoured initiative, producers would have to adopt red, orange or green labels based on the quantity of specific nutrients. Several Member States and numerous Member of the European Parliament wish to adopt the traffic light system. They believe the scheme is quick and efficient and it would allow consumers to make healthier choices.

This is one of the initiatives that is set to come about. Overall, the EU institutions and the Member States have put the focus on junk food. The European Commission and EU countries are not satisfied with the self-regulatory approach of the industry. The EU institutions and the Member States are set to embark on stricter rules against advertising, marketing and sponsorship of foods, which would be of compulsory nature and not simply voluntary.

V. EU bans pesticides

On June 14, the European Parliament decided to support the European Commission’s proposal for an outright ban on the use of pesticides in nature conservation areas. Under the new rules, farmers will no longer be allowed to use pesticides in areas that have been determined to have an ecological focus. Member States will decide what are the areas of ecological focus based on a common EU definition.
The ban was barely approved despite the opposition of the agriculture committee in the European Parliament. This was a tense and closely fought vote. And an indication of what is to come in the upcoming negotiations on agriculture policy.

We expect other committees will be more vocal in the political process that will accompany the agriculture review especially considering the weight of agriculture in the budget of the EU.

VI. EU to reduce the use of microplastics

Following the Circular Economy Package, the European Commission is also working towards an over-arching strategy on plastics. In that framework, it is also considering legislation that is aimed at reducing microplastics that are emitted by various products at the end of their lifecycle, or during production and transport.

Bans on the use of microplastics in specific products are already in place in the US. Canada has also added certain microplastics to the list of toxic substances. As a result, they are now banned.

The European Commission is currently expecting the outcome of two commissioned studies on the effects of microplastics entering the waters before coming up with new rules or a ban. The studies will assess, among other things, aquatic, biodiversity and human health effects. The European Commission is set to address both unintentionally emitted microplastics, as well as microplastics intentionally added to products.

A final report will be presented in November with the findings of the studies, and the collected input from the stakeholders. The deadline for expert contributions is October 16, 2017. The report will be the basis for the new legislative action.