The Commission has proposed today an ambitious reform of the digital space, a comprehensive set of new rules for all digital services, including social media, online market places, and other online platforms that operate in the European Union: the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act.
European values are at the heart of both proposals. The new rules will better protect consumers and their fundamental rights online, and will lead to fairer and more open digital markets for everyone. A modern rulebook across the single market will foster innovation, growth and competitiveness and will provide users with new, better and reliable online services. It will also support the scaling up of smaller platforms, small and medium-sized enterprises, and start-ups, providing them with easy access to customers across the whole single market while lowering compliance costs. Furthermore, the new rules will prohibit unfair conditions imposed by online platforms that have become or are expected to become gatekeepers to the single market. The two proposals are at the core of the Commission’s ambition to make this Europe’s Digital Decade.
Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, said: “The two proposals serve one purpose: to make sure that we, as users, have access to a wide choice of safe products and services online. And that businesses operating in Europe can freely and fairly compete online just as they do offline. This is one world. We should be able to do our shopping in a safe manner and trust the news we read. Because what is illegal offline is equally illegal online.”
Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said: “Many online platforms have come to play a central role in the lives of our citizens and businesses, and even our society and democracy at large. With today’s proposals, we are organising our digital space for the next decades. With harmonised rules, ex ante obligations, better oversight, speedy enforcement, and deterrent sanctions, we will ensure that anyone offering and using digital services in Europe benefits from security, trust, innovation and business opportunities.”
Digital Services Act
The landscape of digital services is significantly different today from 20 years ago, when the eCommerce Directive was adopted. Online intermediaries have become vital players in the digital transformation. Online platforms in particular have created significant benefits for consumers and innovation, have facilitated cross-border trading within and outside the Union, as well as opened up new opportunities to a variety of European businesses and traders. At the same time, they can be used as a vehicle for disseminating illegal content, or selling illegal goods or services online. Some very large players have emerged as quasi-public spaces for information sharing and online trade. They have become systemic in nature and pose particular risks for users’ rights, information flows and public participation.
Under the Digital Services Act, binding EU-wide obligations will apply to all digital services that connect consumers to goods, services, or content, including new procedures for faster removal of illegal content as well as comprehensive protection for users’ fundamental rights online. The new framework will rebalance the rights and responsibilities of users, intermediary platforms, and public authorities and is based on European values – including the respect of human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. The proposal complements the European Democracy Action Plan aiming at making democracies more resilient.
Concretely, the Digital Services Act will introduce a series of new, harmonised EU-wide obligations for digital services, carefully graduated on the basis of those services’ size and impact, such as:
- Rules for the removal of illegal goods, services or content online;
- Safeguards for users whose content has been erroneously deleted by platforms;
- New obligations for very large platforms to take risk-based action to prevent abuse of their systems;
- Wide-ranging transparency measures, including on online advertising and on the algorithms used to recommend content to users;
- New powers to scrutinize how platforms work, including by facilitating access by researchers to key platform data;
- New rules on traceability of business users in online market places, to help track down sellers of illegal goods or services;
- An innovative cooperation process among public authorities to ensure effective enforcement across the single market.
Platforms that reach more than 10% of the EU’s population (45 million users) are considered systemic in nature, and are subject not only to specific obligations to control their own risks, but also to a new oversight structure. This new accountability framework will be comprised of a board of national Digital Services Coordinators, with special powers for the Commission in supervising very large platforms including the ability to sanction them directly.
Digital Markets Act
The Digital Markets Act addresses the negative consequences arising from certain behaviours by platforms acting as digital “gatekeepers” to the single market. These are platforms that have a significant impact on the internal market, serve as an important gateway for business users to reach their customers, and which enjoy, or will foreseeably enjoy, an entrenched and durable position. This can grant them the power to act as private rule-makers and to function as bottlenecks between businesses and consumers. Sometimes, such companies have control over entire platform ecosystems. When a gatekeeper engages in unfair business practices, it can prevent or slow down valuable and innovative services of its business users and competitors from reaching the consumer. Examples of these practices include the unfair use of data from businesses operating on these platforms, or situations where users are locked in to a particular service and have limited options for switching to another one.
The Digital Markets Act builds on the horizontal Platform to Business Regulation, on the findings of the EU Observatory on the Online Platform Economy, and on the Commission’s extensive experience in dealing with online markets through competition law enforcement. In particular, it sets out harmonised rules defining and prohibiting those unfair practices by gatekeepers and providing an enforcement mechanism based on market investigations. The same mechanism will ensure that the obligations set out in the regulation are kept up-to-date in the constantly evolving digital reality.
Concretely, the Digital Markets Act will:
- Apply only to major providers of the core platform services most prone to unfair practices, such as search engines, social networks or online intermediation services, which meet the objective legislative criteria to be designated as gatekeepers;
- Define quantitative thresholds as a basis to identify presumed gatekeepers. The Commission will also have powers to designate companies as gatekeepers following a market investigation;
- Prohibit a number of practices which are clearly unfair, such as blocking users from un-installing any pre-installed software or apps;
- Require gatekeepers to proactively put in place certain measures, such as targeted measures allowing the software of third parties to properly function and interoperate with their own services;
- Impose sanctions for non-compliance, which could include fines of up to 10% of the gatekeeper’s worldwide turnover, to ensure the effectiveness of the new rules. For recurrent infringers, these sanctions may also involve the obligation to take structural measures, potentially extending to divestiture of certain businesses, where no other equally effective alternative measure is available to ensure compliance;
- Allow the Commission to carry out targeted market investigations to assess whether new gatekeeper practices and services need to be added to these rules, in order to ensure that the new gatekeeper rules keep up with the fast pace of digital markets.
The European Parliament and the Member States will discuss the Commission’s proposals in the ordinary legislative procedure. If adopted, the final text will be directly applicable across the European Union.
The Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are the European answer to the deep reflection process in which the Commission, EU Member States and many other jurisdictions have engaged in recent years to understand the effects that digitalisation – and more specifically online platforms – have on fundamental rights, competition, and, more generally, on our societies and economies.
The Commission consulted a wide range of stakeholders in preparation of this legislative package. During the summer of 2020, the Commission consulted stakeholders to further support the work in analysing and collecting evidence for scoping the specific issues that that may require an EU-level intervention in the context of the Digital Services Act and the New Competition Tool, which served as basis for the proposal on the Digital Markets Act. The open public consultations in preparation of today’s package, which ran from June 2020 to September 2020, received more than 3000 replies from the whole spectrum of the digital economy and from all over the world.
India’s Canadian riddle
The timing of the Canadian assault on the Indian foreign and security policy establishment over the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar is not in doubt, stresses M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
It surged in the aftermath of the G20 summit, which witnessed a crushing diplomatic defeat for the US in front of the world community, where the host country India navigated skilfully to scuttle any negative reference to Russia in the event’s final document.
The Nijjar affair can be metaphorically called the grapes of wrath. The liberal western world so far granted Modi government a free passage through their rules-based order. India could preach, but wasn’t accountable for its own practice. All good things come to an end.
Canada has a record of acting as a surrogate of the US. As regards Nijjar file, a Canadian official familiar with the matter told Associated Press that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation against Modi government was based on surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada, including intelligence provided by a “major ally” who is a member of the infamous Five Eyes, the secretive intelligence network of Anglo-Saxon countries — Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the US.
Interestingly, Britain scrambled to distance itself from Trudeau’s tirade, while a Canadian source told Reuters that Canberra and Washington collaborated “very closely” to examine evidence indicating potential Indian involvement in Nijjar’s killing.
Trudeau spoke in the Canadian parliament after consultations with President Biden, and the White House reaction on the same day was highly supportive. The White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said, “We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau. We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.”
Watson works under NSA Jake Sullivan who reports directly to Biden. It is unlikely that Sullivan made this a personal issue with the Indian security establishment. Simply put, the buck stops at the Oval Office.
Indeed, after Watson’s initial remark, the White House quickly switched to megaphone diplomacy with its highflying strategic communications chief John Kirby, a retired rear admiral, confirming for record that Biden is “mindful of the serious allegations” by Trudeau “and they are very serious… and we support Canada’s efforts to investigate this. We believe a fully transparent, comprehensive investigation is the right approach so that we can all know exactly what happened, and of course we encourage India to cooperate with that.”
Such gratuitous lecturing is sheer hypocrisy by a country that freely resorts to assassination as a tool in its foreign policy. Who killed Qassem Soleimani?
Alas, in the face of this bullying, Delhi’s reaction has been pusillanimous, to say the least — as if it is stone deaf and couldn’t hear what the White House officials were saying.
One would like to believe that India, with high values in global governance and deep respect for national sovereignty — apart from being the flag carrier of the concept of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (‘The World is One Family’) — would never descend to such a heinous level as to practice murder in its statecraft.
The Indian government should strategise through its present predicament. After all, as a key member of the western alliance and a close ally of the US, Canada plays an important role for the US in establishing a so-called rules-based international order and promoting the Indo-Pacific Strategy. And “rules-based order” and Indo-Pacific Strategy are Indian mantras too.
Biden himself may come under cloud very soon and be battling for his political career. Inviting him to be the chief guest at the Republic Day with an additional frill thrown in by way of a QUAD summit to placate him is pointless. Once the Canadian investigation runs its course, Ottawa may put on the public domain further accusations passing for “evidence” — and that could happen at some point closer to our general election. All in all, the big question is, what is it that the US is really upto.
Assad-Xi Jinping meeting: China-Syria strategic partnership
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday jointly announced the establishment of a China-Syria strategic partnership, Chinese Xinhua Net informs.
The two presidents met in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, ahead of the opening of the 19th Asian Games.
Syria was one of the first Arab countries that established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, and was one of the countries that co-sponsored the resolution to restore the lawful seat of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations, Xi said.
Over the 67 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the China-Syria relationship has stood the test of changes in the international situation, and their friendship has grown stronger over time, he said.
Xi noted that the establishment of the strategic partnership will be an important milestone in the history of bilateral ties.
China is willing to work with Syria to enrich their relationship and continuously advance the China-Syria strategic partnership, Xi said.
Xi emphasized that China will continue to work with Syria to firmly support each other on issues concerning the two sides’ respective core interests and major concerns, safeguard the common interests of both countries and other developing countries, and uphold international fairness and justice.
China supports Syria in opposing foreign interference, rejecting unilateralism and bullying, and safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said.
China supports Syria in conducting reconstruction, enhancing counter-terrorism capacity building, and promoting a political settlement of the Syrian issue following the “Syrian-led, Syrian-owned” principle, Xi said.
China also supports Syria in improving its relations with other Arab countries and playing a greater role in international and regional affairs, he added.
China is willing to strengthen Belt and Road cooperation with Syria, increase the import of high-quality agricultural products from Syria, and jointly implement the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative to make active contributions to regional and global peace and development.
Assad said that in international affairs, China has always aligned itself with international fairness and justice, and upheld international law and humanitarianism, playing an important and constructive role.
Syria highly appreciates and firmly supports the Belt and Road Initiative, the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative, and will actively participate in them, Assad added.
The Syrian side thanks the Chinese government for its invaluable support to the Syrian people, firmly opposes any act of interference in China’s internal affairs, and is willing to be China’s long-term and staunch friend and partner, he said.
Assad said Syria will take the establishment of the Syria-China strategic partnership as an opportunity to strengthen bilateral friendly cooperation and step up their communication and coordination in international and regional affairs.
After the talks, the two heads of state witnessed the signing of bilateral cooperation documents in areas including Belt and Road cooperation, and economic and technological cooperation.
Seymour Hersh: “Zelensky’s army no longer has any chance of a victory”
Next Tuesday will be the anniversary of the Biden administration’s destruction of three of the four pipelines of Nord Stream 1 and 2. There is more I have to say about it, but it will have to wait. Why? Because the war between Russia and Ukraine, with the White House continuing to reject any talk of a ceasefire, is at a turning point, writes Seymour Hersh, a famous American investigative journalist.
There are significant elements in the American intelligence community, relying on field reports and technical intelligence, who believe that the demoralized Ukraine army has given up on the possibility of overcoming the heavily mined three-tier Russian defense lines and taking the war to Crimea and the four oblasts seized and annexed by Russia.
The reality is that Volodymyr Zelensky’s battered army no longer has any chance of a victory.
The war continues, I have been told by an official with access to current intelligence, because Zelensky insists that it must. There is no discussion in his headquarters or in the Biden White House of a ceasefire and no interest in talks that could lead to an end to the slaughter. “It’s all lies,” the official said, speaking of the Ukrainian claims of incremental progress in the offensive that has suffered staggering losses, while gaining ground in a few scattered areas that the Ukrainian military measures in meters per week.
“There were some early Ukrainian penetrations in the opening days of the June offensive,” the official said, “at or near” the heavily trapped first of Russia’s three formidable concrete barriers of defense, “and the Russians retreated to sucker them in. And they all got killed.” After weeks of high casualties and little progress, along with horrific losses to tanks and armored vehicles, he said, major elements of the Ukrainian army, without declaring so, virtually canceled the offensive. The two villages that the Ukrainian army recently claimed as captured “are so tiny that they couldn’t fit between two Burma-Shave signs” — referring to billboards that seemed to be on every American highway after World War II.
Zelensky’s message this week to the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York offered little new and, the Washington Post reported, he received the obligatory “warm welcome” from those in attendance. But, the Post noted, “he delivered his address to a half-full house, with many delegations declining to appear and listen to what he had to say.” Leaders of some developing nations, the report added, were “frustrated” that the multiple billions being spent without serious accountability by the Biden administration to finance the Ukraine war was diminishing support for their own struggles to deal with “a warming world, confronting poverty and ensuring a more secure life for their citizens.”
President Biden, in his earlier speech to the General Assembly, did not deal with Ukraine’s perilous position in the war with Russia but renewed his resounding support for Ukraine.
Biden, with the support of Secretary Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan — but diminishing support elsewhere in America — has turned his unrelenting financial and moral support for the Ukraine war into a do-or-die issue for his re-election.
The American intelligence official I spoke with spent the early years of his career working against Soviet aggression and spying has respect for Putin’s intellect but contempt for his decision to go to war with Ukraine and to initiate the death and destruction that war brings. But, as he told me, “The war is over. Russia has won. There is no Ukrainian offensive anymore, but the White House and the American media have to keep the lie going. The truth is if the Ukrainian army is ordered to continue the offensive, the army would mutiny. The soldiers aren’t willing to die any more, but this doesn’t fit the B.S. that is being authored by the Biden White House,” Seymour Hersh concludes.
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