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The impact of the European Elections on upcoming legislation: Digital Fairness Act
Author | Max Frey, Horatiu Mudure
Date | 28 May 2024
Read | 5 mins
Max Frey
Horatiu Mudure
As the European Union is preparing for a new legislative term, much talk has been made about upcoming initiatives expected from the new Commission. One such initiative is the Digital Fairness Act, the next legislature’s expected digital flagship legislation seeking to harmonise EU consumer law directives and updating them to address newly emerging challenges in the digital world.  

In this spotlight piece we have carried out a thought experiment to use the upcoming Digital Fairness Act as a showcase for how the next European Parliament might shape legislative proposals.

What will the new European Parliament look like?

Judging by the latest polls, the next legislative term will see a significant shift to the right in the European Parliament, with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) likely remaining the strongest party, but with significant gains for Giorgia Meloni’s far-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Marine Le Pen’s extreme-right Identity and Democracy group (ID). This rightward shift will significantly increase the influence of far-right populist parties in the European Parliament, which will certainly influence the Parliament’s position on specific policy files (read our more in-depth analysis of the expected rightward shift in the European Parliament).

What could this look like in the case of the Digital Fairness Act?

The Commission’s proposal for a Digital Fairness Act is widely expected to review and harmonise the current EU consumer law framework: the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD), the Consumer Rights Directive (CRD), and the Unfair Contract Terms Directive (UCTD). In the course of this review, the Commission is expected to focus on the following points:

Addictive design

The current European Parliament has recently adopted a resolution calling the Commission’s attention to the prevalence of addictive designs of app interfaces and dark patterns, which aim to capture and keep user’s attention on the app as long as possible. In this case, there might be a political interest for far-right parties to reduce the ambition of the Commission’s proposal:

As reported recently, far-right parties are increasingly targeting young voters on TikTok. Reducing the addictive nature of such app’s interfaces would reduce the effectiveness of far-right political content in catching and keeping the attention of young users. In fact, the ECR group had submitted amendments to the EP’s resolution that call on the Commission to examine the situation rather than take action – a clear sign of wanting to decrease the ambition of such initiatives. While ECR voted in favour of the final compromise, their accompanying press release stressed that some of the proposed measures go too far, and that the main responsibility for ensuring children’s digital wellbeing lies with parents, not platforms. We can expect a stronger push in this direction in the next Parliament.

User profiling

The Commission’s proposal is also expected to address the exploitation of users’ behavioural data for profiling and targeting purposes, ranging from displaying personalised pricing for certain goods or services sold online to the display of targeted advertising and personalised recommender systems for content feeds. While measures to limit personalised pricing might present an opportunity for populist parties to present themselves as saviours, their endorsement of potential proposals to limit personalised targeted advertising and content recommenders might be considerably more lacklustre, given the ability of such practices to reach users with political content.

Contracts and subscriptions

The Commission’s proposal will likely introduce measures to increase the level of consumer protection in the area of automatic renewals of subscriptions and the right of withdrawal from contracts through cancellations. An increased influence of populist parties in the EP is not expected to significantly water down such provisions, in line with such parties’ framing as defendants of ordinary European citizens against nefarious foreign digital platforms.

Loot boxes and in-game currency

The Commission’s ongoing consultation on the digital fitness of the consumer law framework specifically addresses the lack of transparency needed for consumers to make informed purchasing decisions for in-game currency or so-called “loot boxes”, a sort of digital jamboree bag containing randomly selected in-game items of varying value. Here, too, little pushback from populists in the EP is expected – particularly since such measures will help them position themselves as defending children online.

Conclusion: Will the European Parliament prevent sensible legislation?

While the influence of far-right and populist parties in the European Parliament is certainly expected to rise, it is important to bear in mind that the European Parliament remains a consensus-building machine, with the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) expected to incur losses but remain the second largest group overall. Increased influence of ECR and ID will likely only translate into increased relative weight for their positions on amendments to proposals, or small shifts in the final outcome of compromise wordings between all political groups represented. As such, the expected rightward shift of the EP will certainly be noticeable in the final outcome of EU legislation – but not radical.