"Are we really so unconcerned about democracy?" A Dutch MEP with the ALDE group, Sophie in 't Veld, was unable to hide her frustration when she asked her rhetorical question during Monday’s brief debate in the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs concerning the new Spanish data protection law. The MEP had previously voiced her concern when the Spanish government passed legislation allowing political parties to use personal data to send targeted political advertising, prompting her to raise a question with the European Commission. This afternoon she had a run in with a member of the Commission, since the only response she had received from the European institution since last November is that the Commission’s concerns had been conveyed to the Spanish authorities. With just three weeks to go until the Spanish general election, Sophie in 't Veld stated that she finds the situation "very worrying".
The text which concerns the European Parliament is the amendment put forward by the PSOE and backed by the rest of the parliamentary groups in Madrid’s Congress which states: "Political parties, coalitions and electoral groups may use personal data obtained from websites and other open sources for political ends during an election campaign".
The representative of the European Commission explained that they responded to the European Parliament’s request in February by expressing the EU leadership’s "concern" over the dangers facing the Spanish electorate’s data under the new data protection law. The Commission defended the decision by referring to the circular sent by the Spanish Data Protection Authority warning that Spanish citizens’ data must not be used to "ascertain" their political ideology. Meanwhile it admitted that this is not sufficient to ensure that the data is not misused. The European Commission also found another excuse. After the European Parliament expressed its concern, the European Ombudsman filed a complaint against the legislation with the Constitutional Court, meaning the case is currently under investigation, the Commission was quick to point out, and the Spanish court had until the beginning of this month to answer. According to the Commission, nothing more can be done, since it is a legal process.
Such a "failure to act", however, frustrated the Dutch MEP, who was one of the proponents of the European data protection legislation which Spain has agreed to implement. Sophie in 't Veld not only expressed her disagreement with the fact that the Commission is satisfied by merely "notifying" the Spanish authorities just three weeks ahead of the general election: she also criticized Spain for "misusing" European legislation for "propaganda" purposes.
"Simply monitoring the case is not enough, as the elections are only three weeks away. We can’t wait until after the elections to say that there was a problem, it’s unacceptable", said the MEP. She went on to ask what the Commission will do, "to ensure that the data is not used to interfere in the election?", while criticising the fact that in an "important debate" such as this one, only six MEPs were present. In addition, only a Spanish MEP took part in the debate —Maite Pagazaurtundúa, a former member of UPyD and also a member of ALDE— expressing her concern and calling on the Commission to take further action.
The Dutch MEP enquired, "If all that the EC can do is say that we’ve already told the Spanish authorities that we don’t like what they’re doing, why do we bother passing legislation?". She called on the president of the Committee on Civil Liberties to notify the Commission of the European Parliament’s dislike of its "failure to take action".