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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.