April 18. 2024. 10:44

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French Senators blame Macron government for long delay in adopting SREN digital bill

On Tuesday (2 April), French Senators blamed the Macron government for the eight-month delay in the legislative process on a landmark digital bill, saying that the government failed to prepare the text effectively.

The EU Commission objected to some provisions in the legislation, which delayed the process in France. The Commission’s objections were only a result of bad preparation on the French government’s part, said the opposition politicians.

The bill “sécuriser et réguler l’espace numérique”, shortened SREN, is an all-encompassing digital law that brings several EU laws into French legislation.

Yet, unlike other regular laws on the adaptation of the legislative framework to EU laws, this bill includes additional provisions on some key topics, including pornography, online games, deepfakes, and harassment.

“The adoption of this bill is a government failure,” said Les Républicains, EPP Senator Patrick Chaize, who acted as co-rapporteur for the bill, at the senate on Tuesday.

He blamed the government for the long procedure for passing the bill, longer than a year.

According to him the government “poorly anticipated the procedural constraints,” on the bill.

The SREN bill was finally adopted in the Senate on Tuesday, with 302 votes in favour and 2 against.

EU Commission objections

The Commission sent two ‘reasoned opinions’ to France on 25 October 2023 and 17 January 2024.

Reasoned opinions give the Commission the power to temporarily block a national law if it finds that it infringes on EU laws.

The two opinions froze the legislative process for four months each, giving time to lawmakers to revamp the text making it compatible with EU law.

Following the agreement on the bill in France, the Commission for a third time, is expected to express its view on the compromise text.

A third reasoned opinion would lead to more delays.

Chaize lamented that the bill enacts key EU digital laws late, compared to the timetable set by the Commission.

Under the Digital Services Act (DSA), EU member states should have designated their national coordinating authority by 17 February.

According to the Commission’s website, 10 countries are still lagging. As Euractiv reported, Germany adopted its adaptation law on 21 March.

“We have not integrated the European dimension enough into our legislative approach,” assessed centrist Senator Catherine Morin-Desailly.

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Legislative conflicts

As an adaptation of EU laws, the SREN bill plans to designate in law which authorities will implement the EU’s content moderation law (DSA) and antitrust law (Digital Markets Act, DMA).

It further aims to anticipate the provisions on the cloud sector of the Data Act, a data-sharing law.

But the bill went further than what the EU has legislated so far. It includes provisions restricting access to pornographic websites, an anti-scam filter, and regulation of games with in-app purchases.

It is precisely these provisions that the Commission had an issue within its reasoned opinions.

The EU executive feared France would not respect the DSA provisions, which would have been detrimental to the block’s legislative framework.

The Commission specifically targeted the French provisions on pornographic content, which it said are forbidden under the DSA.

A provision to impose an age-verification system on pornographic websites is a breach of EU law, as it would have pushed companies to develop a system of mass surveillance of their users, which is forbidden under the bloc’s legislation.

Another issue with the French provisions was the general obligations imposed on platforms without French headquarters.

Under EU law, a platform is bound to respect the obligations of the law of the country where it established its EU headquarters.

Obligations imposed by another EU country should follow a strict procedure.

This principle, coined as the country of origin principle, has been further strengthened by a Court of Justice decision in November 2023 against an Austrian law.

Answering the Senators, French Digital Secretary of State Marina Ferrari said that “this text establishes long-waited foundations, which will enable us to better regulate the digital space and protect our citizens, particularly minors.”

[Edited by Rajnish Singh]

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