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Watchdog outlines long term vision for a single digital regulator in Europe

A single body could be responsible for the regulation of data protection, consumer protection and competition law issues in digital markets in future, the European data protection supervisor has said.12 Dec 2017

Giovanni Buttarelli said, however, that the body is unlikely to be established within the next decade.

The move will come about because it "doesn't appear sustainable" for different regulators at EU and national level to operate in a fragmented way, he said in an interview with Euractiv.

"The answer will be increasingly global," Buttarelli said. "So building on what we can achieve today with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), in thinking of what different players are doing today, a digital single regulator in the long-term, not before ten years from now, may improve European leadership in terms of values and enforcement."

"This has to be designed, carefully considered and digested by legislators. And it will take time. Because it means gradually approaching an entire different system. This is not a solution for tomorrow morning," he said.

The GDPR, which takes effect on 25 May 2018, creates a formal procedure for the cooperation of national data protection authorities (DPA) across the EU in respect of enforcement activities that concern cross-border data processing activities by businesses.

Buttarelli said that the cooperation mechanism under the GDPR is the starting point for closer cooperation between regulators in future.

"At least for cross-border operations, we have to administer presently in the best way, but at the same time prepare for the future," Buttarelli said. "Things evolve in a way that is unthinkable and unpredictable. We should not believe that the GDPR, which is likely to stay for over two decades, will be forever. The future has to be prepared and this is why I’ve been appointed to anticipate the challenges and to provide the legislator with relevant input in time to start a debate. It doesn’t mean undermining the present, but it means we are deeply committed to a future-oriented approach."

"The cooperation, the forum where we will coordinate our actions and take, where possible, unified decisions has to be harmonised and synchronised," he said. "There has to be a really urgent need to start with this exercise. It means that legislators see the need to make existing enforcement more effective in practice. The reality that the fragmentation of consumer protection, antitrust, privacy and data protection actions in different fora, according to different rules, to deal with the same phenomena, is therefore not a perspective for the long-term."

Buttarelli first outlined proposals for a new 'digital clearing house' last year.

Competition law expert Alan Davis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: “With the convergence of technologies and growing concentration and market power worldwide of companies in the digital markets,  it is clear that closer cooperation between the various regulators is strongly desirable in order to achieve the right outcomes for consumers using the whole range  of tools available to those regulators.”

“However, having a combined regulator only for the digital markets does not seem realistic or necessary, firstly, given that what needs to be achieved can be done through cooperation between the regulators and , secondly, there is no need for a sector specific regulator in the absence of a separate and distinct regulatory regime as applies in the utilities sector,” he said.