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The selective hearing of Ylva Johansson

Isn't it cool that European Commissioner for Home Affairs Yvla Johansson came to receive the people’s choice award of the Big Brother Awards in person? On her birthday, nonetheless. However, it also stings a bit, because the commissioner is notoriously selective about when and with whom she enters into discussion.

Invited several times

The bill for which commissioner Johansson was nominated, was launched by her in May. That did not come as a surprise. The proposal was a long time coming, but got pushed forward repeatedlySome of our colleague's built the website "Has Commssioner Johansson met with digital rights groups?". In the run-up to the launch we, together with our European colleagues, invited the commissioner several times to discuss the proposal. That is important, because a golden rule for anyone who wants to get something done in Brussels is: the earlier in the process you can relay your concerns, the greater your impact. But each time she turned down our invitation.

If you want good quality legislation, you have to talk to all those directly involved.

Selective hearing

Painfully enough, the commissioner did talk to the companies building the technology used to search for child sexual abuse material in big heaps of messages people send to each other. Better yet, she put a lot of effortShe wrote a blog about her meeting with "the big players" into it, even traveling to Silicon Valley to speak with those companies. She also spoke with all the big technology companiesSome of her meetings are public information, since they are recorded in her public agenda, such as Google, Twitter, Meta and Microsoft. But for organizations that stand up for a common good, like ours, the door remained closed. And worse even, as far as we can tell the commissioner barely spoke to organizations specialized in combating sexual violence.

Poor quality legislation

This is problematic. Why? Because it leads to lower-quality legislation. If you want proper legislation, you have to talk to all those directly involvedSex crimes unit already overwhelmed, and EU lawmakers will only make it worse or their representatives. Because only then will you be able to understand their context and the exact nature of the problems they run into. These are things you cannot learn from companies that develop technology. If you do not talk to all stakeholders, the legislation you develop will not meet the needs of the very groups of people you want to help. That has become painfully visible by the huge gapWho does the EU legislator listen to, if it ain’t the experts? between the recommendations of experts engaged in combating sexual violence and the proposal of the European commissioner.

Furthermore, if you fail to listen to all relevant experts, you may well overlook harmful side effects or wrongly consider those side effects trivial. This is also detrimental to the quality of the interventions themselves. If the commissioner had chosen to be informed by a wider set of actors, and not just by those developing the technology or with other financial motives that might lead them to overstate the effectiveness of the technology, the commissioner might not have blindly expressed her faith in a tool that does not actually exist. And by not being open to criticismA study by Delft University shows that there is a lot wrong with the substantiation of the proposal , the arguments and assumptions underlying the proposal are particularly, and unnecessarily weak. Finally, this arrogant attitude also undermines support for the legislation. Someone who is affected by the legislation, but does not feel heard, will be adverse to accepting the far-reaching consequences of those rules.

Through the heart

That the commissioner seems to be able to get away with this is not surprising. The commissioner's speech upon receiving the people’s choice award was, fair is fair, incredibly powerful. Humor combined with the cited example of the brutal rape of a defenseless child touched everyone deeply. Arguments based on reason and facts fall short as a response. The problems the commissioner is addressing are so severe that any person's immediate reflex will be to call for the most severe of measures, any measures, at any cost.

Arrogance on the side of the legislator undermines support for legislation.

The English translation of this article was drafted by Martin van Veen.

The sad part of all this, of course, is that the protection of the vulnerable child is not as good as it needs to be. In other words, by not striving for high-quality legislation, for measures that fit the situation of victims (and perpetrators), and by not listening to everyone directly involved, those we want to protect have not been served best. And that, we really cannot afford.

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