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New Commissioner for Transport strives for decarbonization and multimodality

With the confirmation of the Romanian Adina-Ioana Vălean as Commissioner-designate for Transport, the new College of Commissioners is now complete and awaits final confirmation of the European Parliament’s plenary on 27 November. The soon-to-be Commissioner for Transport reiterated during her parliamentary hearing that the transport sector needs to become more sustainable and cut back CO2 emissions. According to Vălean, the European Commission will have to strike a balance between applying the polluter pays principle while maintaining the competitiveness of the industry. What is the outlook for transport according to Vălean?

Reducing emissions in most polluting sectors

Both the maritime and aviation sectors will need to cut CO2 emissions significantly in the next decades to comply with the climate objectives as set out in the Paris Agreement. According to Vălean, there are good reasons to include the maritime sector in the EU Emission Trading System (EU ETS). Moreover, she mentioned plans to reduce the free allowances in the EU ETS for aviation and ensuring the sector’s compliance with the global system for offsetting emission CORSIA. The Single European Sky legislative file, which is currently blocked in the Council of the EU, was mentioned as important to move forward with as it can reduce congestion and emissions in aviation.

The Transport Commissioner will cooperate closely together with Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President and coordinator of the EU Green Deal, to work out the details for various upcoming initiatives. Moreover, the European Commission will closely follow developments at global level, most notably the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization, to pursue global solutions. However, Vălean stressed that the European Commission is not afraid to bypass international organizations in order to maintain leadership in climate change.

Focusing on sustainable transport modes

According to the Commissioner, multimodality is a key instrument for accelerating decarbonization of transport. She stated that railways are at the centre of multimodality and sustainable transport. She urged for more investments and the completion of the Trans-European Transport core Network by 2030. Moreover, she will use opportunities in the field of digitalization to further deploy the European Rail Traffic Management System, improve multimodal ticketing and exploit the potential of Mobility as a Service. On road transport, the Commissioner hopes to attain more investments in e-mobility and recharging points for electric vehicles.

What’s next

The proposed College of Commissioner is still subject to a plenary vote by the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 27 November. Moreover, the United Kingdom is also expected to nominate a Commissioner, but up until this moment they have refused to do so. Following a positive result, the European Council will formally appoint the Commission through Qualified Majority Voting in order to take office on 1 December 2019. New legislative initiatives are expected to be published early 2020 and are expected to have significant impact on stakeholders across the transport sector. Do you want to know more about how the policy agenda of the European Commission will impact your business and daily operations? Please get in touch with us to know more.

Click here to download the 5 key takeaways from Adina-Ioana Vălean’s hearing.

What will be the digital agenda of the next European Commission?

Between early leaks from DG CONNECT to the individual grilling of Commissioners-designate, the digital agenda of the next European Commission is slowly taking shape – even if key questions remain.

 Digital policies: who does what?

The cross-checking of somewhat blurry portfolio titles, mission letters, the Commission’s new organizational chart, the attribution of DGs and finally the Commissioners-designate hearings shed some light on who will do what to set the digital agenda in motion.

Margrethe Vestager’s hearing set the tone, with a number of questions and declarations on expected digital files (a chance Sylvie Goulard, Commissioner-designate for the Internal Market, did not get). The Vice-President for Digital and Commissioner for Competition also used this occasion to clarify (though without going into details) that the execution of the digital portfolio will be in the hands of her colleagues – allowing her to keep separate her two jobs – and avoid any clash between possible conflicting objectives.

So, who are the Commissioners in charge of digital policies?

Goulard’s rejection today by the European Parliament might lead to some reshuffling, but as it stands, the following Commissioners will contribute to the EU’s digital agenda:

  • Didier Reynders, Commissioner-designate for Justice, on topics such as GDPR and Artificial Intelligence;
  • Věra Jourová, Vice President-designate for Values and Transparency, on issues like illegal content and disinformation – possibly contributing as well to the Digital Services Act;
  • Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner-designate for Innovation and Youth, who also mentioned AI in her hearing, in addition to the importance of investing in education, research and innovation, and ensuring synergies between the three;
  • Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner-designate for the Economy, that will inherit the work on the Digital Tax;
  • Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for “An Economy that works for people”, that will continue the work on Fintech, cryptoassets, cybersecurity…;
  • And of course, now, there’s a big question mark on who will take on the files assigned to Goulard, including the groundwork on the Digital Services Act, Artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity, digital education and so on.

On what topics?

The new Digital Services Act – which will include a revision of the 2000 Ecommerce Directive, has been high on the agenda of the tech sector, and is clearly high on the Commission’s agenda as well. For anyone that has been closely following these developments, the hearings did not reveal anything. The new act will “upgrade” the existing liability rules for platforms and try to find the right balance to avoid hindering a growing European platform economy. Jourová added to the discussion by focusing on the fight against illegal content and disinformation and the responsibility of platforms.

Artificial Intelligence has been mentioned many times, but not in great details. Vestager highlighted again what should be the EU’s approach to AI, and Reynders argued in favor of a very horizontal, “ethics-by-design” approach. Vestager also confirmed that something will come in the first 100 days, without concretely saying what will come and under which form – since a legislative proposal seems relatively improbable under such deadline.

Access to data was briefly mentioned, with Vestager highlighting that the EU might need to regulate the way that companies collect, use and share data, so it can benefit the entire society.

Digital Tax remains on the agenda, with Gentiloni supporting an international solution, but not excluding a European one if an agreement cannot be reached.

On competition, Vestager highlighted that competition rules needed to adapt to digitalization, especially with the development of the platform economy and technologies such as AI, where access to data is crucial. Vestager also declared, after her hearing, that “she will move beyond fines in her second term […] to look at other measures to ensure a fair playing field”.

Remaining on the topic of Big Tech, Valdis Dombrovskis also announced that the Commission was looking into Facebook’s Libra, and that a legislative proposal on such cryptoassets was to be expected.

Beyond policy, the hearings confirmed that the European Commission will have to deal with a fragmented and vocal European Parliament, especially on digital matters.

Download our infographic on Margrethe Vestager’s hearing here.

Meet the new European Commission

Today, Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen announced her proposed team of European Commissioners. If approved by the European Parliament, starting from 1 November 2019, the new Commission will have a more complex structure, including eight Vice-Presidents. Among them is also the High-Representative of the Union for Foreign Policy and Security Policy, Josep Borrel (Spain). The Vice-Presidents will be responsible for the top priorities in the Political Guidelines: by coordinating the Commission’s work on several overarching issues such as the European Green Deal, a Europe fit for the Digital Age, an Economy that Works for People, Protecting our European Way of Life, a Stronger Europe in the World and a New Push for European Democracy.

Executive Vice-Presidents

Out of the eight Vice-Presidents, three Executive Vice-Presidents will serve a double function. If confirmed by the European Parliament, they will be both Vice-Presidents responsible for one of key priorities as well as Commissioners. The first Executive Vice-President is Frans Timmermans (The Netherlands). He is charge of the European Green Deal, meaning that he will coordinate climate policies. In light of the strong results of Green parties across Europe, it can be expected that “Green” policies will play a substantial role in the next term. For Frans Timmermans, who will be supported by DG CLIMA, this means he also has to cooperate with many different Directorate-Generals (DGs), as climate policies interact with policy areas ranging from Transport to Agriculture.

The second Executive Vice-President is Margrethe Verstager (Denmark). She will be overseeing the whole agenda on “a Europe fit for the Digital Age” and at the same time serve as Commissioner for Competition. During the current mandate, Verstager has also been the Competition Commissioner and recently she already paid considerable attention to the digital aspects of competition policy. According to Von der Leyen, this Commission will aim to “make our single market fit for the digital age, we need to make the most of artificial intelligence and big data, we have to improve on cybersecurity and we have to work hard for our technological sovereignty”. A focus on these topics can thus be expected from the new Commissioner.

The third Executive Vice-President is Valdis Dombrovskis (Latvia). He will be in charge of an “Economy that Works for People” and he will also serve as Commissioner for Financial Services, supported by DG FISMA. In his role as Executive Vice-President, Dombrovskis is expected to focus on sustainable finance, but potentially also on creating a regulatory framework on cyber-security for financial services. According to the mission letter sent by Von der Leyen, Dombrovskis will work to “bring together the social and the market in our economy”.  He will also lead the work on strengthening the role of the euro as a strategic asset for the EU and this will include increasing the global use of the euro for payments.

The additional five Vice-Presidents are:

  • Josep Borell (Spain) – High-Representative of the Union for Foreign Policy and Security Policy and Vice-President for “a stronger Europe in the world”
  • Věra Jourová (Czech Republic) – Vice-President for “Values and Transparency”
  • Margaritis Schinas (Greece) – Vice-President for “Protecting our European Way of Life”
  • Maroš Šefčovič (Slovakia) – Vice-President for “Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight”
  • Dubravka Šuica (Croatia) – Vice-President for “Democracy and Demography”

Commissioners

Sylvie Goulard (France) has been appointed as the new Commissioner-candidate for the Internal Market. Her work will be supported by DG CNECT and DG GROW, which will from this mandate on be overseen by the same Commissioner. Goulard will be focusing on several digital issues, such as enhancing Europe’s technological sovereignty, developing a European approach on artificial intelligence, the new Digital Services Act and a Single market for cybersecurity. Didier Reynders (Belgium) has been appointed as the new Commissioner-candidate for Justice. In this role he will lead the Commission’s work on the comprehensive European Rule of Law Mechanism. Furthermore, he will focus on consumer protection, implementation of the GDPR and contribute to “a coordinated approach on the human and ethical implications of artificial intelligence, ensuring that fundamental rights are fully protected in the digital age”.  Paolo Gentiloni (Italy) is the candidate to become the new Commissioner for Economy. He will be supported in his work by DG ECFIN and DG TAXUD. In this mandate, he will work on international efforts to find an approach on digital taxation and focus on full implementation of the Union Customs Code. Furthermore, he will aim to turn the European Semester cycle of economic governance into an instrument that integrated the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Rovana Plumb (Romania) has been appointed as the new Commissioner-designate for Transport, supported by DG MOVE. As part of her mission, she will work towards a strategy for sustainable and smart mobility, on extending the Emissions Trading System to the maritime sector and reducing fee allowances for airlines. In addition, she will focus on the review of the Energy Taxation Directive, automated mobility and digital innovation and completing the Trans-European Transport network.

The other Commissioner-candidates are:

  • Mariya Gabriel (Bulgaria) – Innovation and Youth
  • Johannes Hahn (Austria) – Budget and Administration
  • Stella Kyriakides (Cyprus) – Health
  • Kadri Simson (Estonia) – Energy
  • Jutta Urpilainen (Finland) – International Partnerships
  • László Trócsányi (Hungary) – Neighbourhood and Enlargement
  • Phil Hogan (Ireland) – Trade
  • Virginijus Sinkevičius (Lithuania) – Environment and Oceans
  • Nicolas Schmit (Luxembourg) – Jobs
  • Helena Dalli (Malta) – Equality
  • Janusz Wojciechowski (Poland) – Agriculture
  • Elisa Ferreira (Portugal) – Cohesion and Reforms
  • Janez Lenarčič (Slovenia) – Crisis Management
  • Ylva Johansson (Sweden) – Home Affairs

Conclusion

Overall, the socialists bring a small majority of Commissioners to the College and have most of the economic portfolios. The liberals in Renew Europe also managed to obtain key positions, such as the Executive Vice-Presidency on Digital and Commissioner of Competition, as well as Energy and Values and Transparency. The structure of the new European Commission has changed considerably since the last mandate. There are now Vice-Presidents with double functions and Commissioners overseeing two Directorate-Generals. Furthermore, as Von der Leyen intended, there is indeed a gender-balance in the college of Commissioners; there are 14 men and 13 women. Compared to the previous Commission, there is a vast number of newcomers (19), while eight Commissioners maintain a position in the new configuration.

The next step is for the European parliament to test the entire College of Commissioners. Between 30 September and 8 October, parliamentary hearings will take place with the Commissioner-designates, each Commissioner will be heard by the respective parliamentary committees. The European Parliament cannot reject individual candidates, but they can request a second hearing in case of doubt or exert pressure to replace or re-position a specific candidate. The European Parliament can ultimately reject or accept the entire College of Commissioners. The Plenary vote is scheduled to take place on 21 October. In case of no delays with the decision, the new Commission will take office on 1 November.