By Martin Banks - 27th March 2012
A top EU official says that simplified data protection rules will be "hugely beneficial" to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
Addressing a high-level SME conference on Tuesday, Francoise Le Bail, from the commission, said that plans to streamline existing arrangements could save businesses up to €2bn a year.
Le Bail, director general of the commission's justice DG, said, "We want people to take back control of their personal data."
She was speaking after the commission launched a review of the data protection directive in January with the aim being, said Le Bail, to strengthen the protection of individuals while reducing the administrative burden on companies.
The text is expected to go through further changes as it is now being discussed in parliament and by member states. It is unlikely a deal will be struck before 2013.
In its proposals, the commission aims to extend the scope of the regulation to any processing of personal data regardless of whether the processing takes place within the EU or not.
It also introduces new accountability requirements, such as 'privacy by design' and obligatory impact assessment.
Le Bail pointed out that these new requirements are coupled with reinforced enforcement sanctions, including stiff fines for offenders.
These could range from €250,000 to two per cent of the annual worldwide turnover of a company.
She said, "You can have the best rules and regulations in the world but without proper enforcement you need not bother.
"The aim here is to give real teeth to the proposed regulation."
At present, many SMEs complain that EU data protection rules are more of a hindrance than help for growth, the conference was told.
The new rules, said Le Bail, aimed to change this, adding that they will be of particular relevance to any company with an 'online presence', any organisation to whom customers' data is essential to their business, the healthcare sector and airlines.
Le Bail, who was addressing a conference organised by the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners, said that small firms were "the key" to economic recovery in Europe.
"A simplified system of data protection schemes will be hugely beneficial to SMEs," said Le Bail, who was previously the EU's SME 'envoy'.
Speaking at the same Brussels conference, Per Werngren, president of the IAMCP, said that SMEs were at the "heart" of economic recovery and growth.
He said, "There are 21 million SMEs in Europe and 95 per cent of them employ less than 10 people. Just imagine if each of these hired just one more employee.
"That would help the economic recovery enormously," added the Swedish businessman.