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Leading EU CEOs warn Brussels data law could hurt competitiveness, cybersecurity

Computer servers that store users' photos and other data at the Facebook site in Prineville Ore, Oct. 15, 2013.
Computer servers that store users' photos and other data at the Facebook site in Prineville Ore, Oct. 15, 2013. Copyright Andy Tullis/The Bulletin via AP
Copyright Andy Tullis/The Bulletin via AP
By Alice Tidey
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Leading EU CEOs warn Brussels Data Act could hurt competitiveness, cybersecurity

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The CEOs of several leading European companies have urged the Commission to pull the brake on plans to regulate the use and access of data generated in the bloc arguing they could cause lasting damage to the bloc's competitiveness and cybersecurity.

In a letter sent to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager last week and seen by Euronews, they wrote of their "deep concerns" about the content and speed of the inter-institutional negotiations over the Data Act warning that the legislation could, in its current form, endanger European leadership and innovation.

The signatories of the letter — which include the CEOs of Siemens AG and Healthineers, SAP, Brainlab and Datev — demand to be received by the EU's executive at their "earliest convenience".

The European Data Act was unveiled by the Commission in February 2022 to create harmonised rules on fair access to and use of data across the 27 countries of the bloc. It is meant to allow for easier data sharing between businesses and consumers, businesses and businesses and businesses and governments as well as enabling customers to effectively switch between different cloud data-processing services providers.

The Commission said at the time that the law would create a fair digital environment, stimulate a competitive data market, open opportunities for data-driven innovation and make data more accessible for all.

But the five CEOs and DigitaLEurope, a trade organisation representing digitally transforming industries across the bloc, say the trilogue negotiations between the Commission, MEPs and member states are now going at "break-neck speed" and that there is "little room to discuss these complex details in depth".

They argue, for instance, that being forced to share data with other companies could not only lead them to reveal details about their internal systems, processes, or technologies that could leave them vulnerable to malicious actors, but also benefit competitors, especially third-country operators who may not have to abide by the same rules. 

"This not only undermines EU competitiveness and innovation, but also raises questions regarding EU technology leadership," they write.

Stefan Vielsmeier, CEO of Brainlab, added in a statement that "the proposed regulation will rather weaken Europe’s economy in competing with especially China, by forcing companies to reveal an unprecedented level of insight into related business practices and value chains."

They, therefore, call for the implementation of safeguards. These include the right to refuse to share data with other businesses where trade secrets, cybersecurity, health and safety are at risk, the assurance that when governments demand access to data, it is "proportionate and limited to clearly defined emergency situations, types of data and public bodies".

Euronews has reached out to the European Commission for comment.

A spokesperson for the European Commission confirmed on Monday that they had received the letter, adding that the EU's executive "understands the need to protect trade secrets, including in third countries."

"The Data Act isn't trying to change European or national law on trade secrets. However, it's important that trade secrets aren't used as an excuse for not sharing data. We have to find the balance there, and that's exactly what we're trying to do with the proposal on the Data Act," Johannes Bahrke said.

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