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Zuckerberg to face European Parliament after snubbing MPs

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before the US House of Representatives last month (Getty)

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg will face questions at the European Parliament, it has been announced – just a day after he snubbed a request to appear before the UK Parliament.

Zuckerberg could be in Brussels to “clarify issues related to the use of personal data” as soon as next week, according to European Parliament Antoni Tajani.

“Our citizens deserve a full and detailed explanation,” said Tajani in reference to recent revelations about the misuse of personal data collected by Facebook.

“I welcome Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to appear in person before the representatives of 500 million Europeans. It is a step in the right direction towards restoring confidence.”

The timing of his trip coincides with the launch of a new EU data privacy law – the GDPR -which will see companies who fall foul of it fined up to 4% of their global annual turnover.

That is no coincidence, according to Labour MEP Claude Moraes, who is part of the group that will quiz Zuckerberg as chair of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee.

“We have just enacted the most modern data protection law in the world, GDPR and have the rules and clout to deal with Facebook,” pointed out Mr Moraes.

The Facebook CEO appeared in front of both US Houses of Congress last month but has repeatedly refused requests to appear before the House of Common’s Digital Culture, Media and Sport committee despite the threat of a formal summons.

Zuckerberg’s decision is a coup for the European Parliament, but the arrangements for have sparked a furious row.

Zuckerberg is to meet a select group of MEPs in private and it will be left to senior Facebook executives to face a separate, public grilling.

The private meeting is due to be attended by Mr Tajani, the leaders of the Parliament’s political groups, including UKIP MEP Nigel Farage, Mr Moraes and one other member of his committee.

But Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Parliament’s liberal group as well as its Brexit coordinator, says he will boycott the meeting if its behind closed doors.

A spokesman for the European Parliament president defended the decision to accept a behind closed doors meeting.

Nick Simonici said that while the meeting might not be public, that “does not mean it’s secret.”

“Leaders present free to discuss meeting openly with press and citizens, transcript will allow detailed public scrutiny,” he said. 

“Subsequent hearing with Facebook executives will complement Mr Zuckerberg’s appearance.”

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