Speech by Commissioner Breton on the Digital Services Act

Madam President,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

I am delighted to be here today to debate a proposal that is particularly close to my heart and which, as you know, has occupied me since the first day I took office: the Digital Services Act.

Holding this debate in plenary a year after our proposal of December 2020 is testament to the tireless work that each of you has put in. For this, I wish to express my deep gratitude.

With this debate in plenary today and the vote in this very chamber tomorrow, we are taking a historic step towards the end of the so-called ‘Wild West’ dominating our information space.

Just a year ago, as everyone here remembers, we were struck by the images of protesters storming the US Congress – Capitol Hill – marking a before-and-after in the role of digital platforms in our democracy.

What we experienced was the culmination of years of uncontrolled hate speech, incitement to violence, disinformation and destabilisation strategies spread on social networks without restraint and from which these platforms have – it must be admitted – largely profited. It has become clear to all that the absence of rules and democratic control over the decisions of a handful of large platforms, which have now become systemic public spaces, is no longer tolerable.

A few weeks before these incidents, the Commission had just presented the DSA and the DMA, which, responding to the high expectations of our fellow citizens, proposed a complete reorganisation of our information space.

Because our citizens expect a strong message from Europe, addressed to the major platforms that are exerting an increasing influence on our lives and our democracy.

We also had the opportunity to hear the testimony of Frances Haugen, the whistleblower from a digital giant whom I also had the opportunity to meet personally with the DSA rapporteur, Christel Schaldemose.

What came to light during these talks confirms that there is not only an urgent need for legislation but also an imperative not to lower our ambitions.

With the DSA we will create an innovative system which I would summarise in four main points:

  1. We propose clear rules for the removal of anything illegal in the digital space – be it products, services or content – in line with a simple principle: what is prohibited offline must be prohibited online.
  2. We are imposing new risk-based obligations on very large platforms to prevent abuse – as has been done with prudential rules for banks; moreover, for these systemic platforms the Commission will have supervisory and sanctioning powers: fines of up to 6% of annual turnover or even temporary exclusion from the internal market in the event of serious and continuous infringements.
  3. We are opening the black box of algorithms, by imposing transparency measures on platforms to finally understand the reasons why this or that citizen is targeted by certain content or advertisements.
  4. And finally, we are making sure that all these rules are applied uniformly throughout the European Union, to prevent platforms from operating from countries that are deemed to be more ‘benevolent’. And, of course, these rules apply to all players, European or not.

In just over a year, we have made remarkable progress with the European Parliament and the Council, and I am confident that we will be able to adopt these proposals together under the French Presidency by the end of June. The work of the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee shows that we share the same level of ambition and sense of urgency.

Together we will remain extremely vigilant. And I welcome the fact that the increased lobbying efforts we have witnessed, also in this institution, have been in vain – we will not let corporate interests interfere with the general interest of European citizens.

Europe is the first continent in the world to undertake a comprehensive reform of our digital space. With the DSA and the DMA we are about to reorganise the digital space in our internal market, both for societal and economic reasons. A new framework that can become a reference for democracies worldwide.

So today’s debate is very important for Europe and beyond and we will listen to you very carefully.

Today’s debate confirms that the approach proposed by the Commission is the right way forward: horizontal, risk-based regulation of the Digital Internal Market with a strong and structured governance system.

There are, of course, problems concerning specific services or sectors and these will be addressed, where necessary, with specific regulations. Some have already been proposed by the Commission and are already under discussion, others have been announced and will be finalised shortly.

Last but not least, I would like to recall that the DSA and the DMA are two sides of the same coin. Societal issues cannot be resolved without facing the challenges of healthy competition, and vice versa.

The whole world is watching and our citizens are waiting for us. With today’s debate, we can say it loud and clear: it is time to act and the Union is ready.