Digital Brief: von der Leyen’s tech stance

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“If they want to benefit, they have to share the burden.”

– Ursula von der Leyen speaking to the European Parliament, Tuesday 16 July. 


VDL’s tech stance. After Ursula von der Leyen secured a paper-thin majority of support in the European Parliament earlier this week, attention has now turned to how the EU’s next European Commission president could treat the tech sector. Speaking ahead of the vote on Tuesday, von der Leyen said that she stands for “fair taxes” in the industry and that “it is not acceptable” that tech behemoths make profits and “play our tax system,” adding that “if they want to benefit, they have to share the burden.” Following France’s recent go-ahead for their own digital tax plans, expect that the debate could also return to the agenda in Brussels.

More broadly, VDL has put forward her political priorities for the next European Commission. On the digital front, her intentions are as follows. In Artificial Intelligence, she will “put forward legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications” of the technology, while, following the path already set out, she will look to establish joint standards for 5G networks, as well as define standards for blockchain, high-performance computing, and quantum computing. 

She has also floated the idea of a Digital Services Act to “upgrade our liability and safety rules for digital platforms,” as well as establish a “joint Cyber Unit” “to speed up information sharing and better protect ourselves” for the risks arising from digitisation. She will also look to put in place a Digital Education Plan by, for example, encouraging the wider use of massive open online courses, and following on from the Commission’s code of practice against disinformation, she will look to “tackle issues such as disinformation and online hate messages” at an EU level.

Huawei. I’ve been spending the first half of this week in Shenzhen, China – the country’s tech megapolis home to telecommunications giant Huawei. Meeting officials at the company’s Cybersecurity Lab yesterday, it transpired that the company’s cybersecurity chief, John Suffolk, has issued around 100 ‘no-go’ decisions on products that he deems are not fit for the company’s standards, thereby blocking their release to market.

Moreover, the recent controversial claim by Professor Christopher Balding that many Huawei employees have backgrounds in the Chinese military, was put to bed, at least in the Cybersecurity Lab, after EURACTIV was informed that it is not the CSL’s policy to hire individuals with previous experience in the Chinese military.

On von Der Leyen, VP of corporate communications for Huawei, Joe Kelly, told me that the company welcomes the idea of establishing “more definitive standards” in the field of 5G network infrastructure and that Huawei is continuing to rally for the notion of establishing minimum universal technical standards in the telecoms sector.

Meanwhile, Huawei’s head of public affairs, Catherine Chen, has been in Europe ahead of a Brussels presentation later this week. Yesterday in Strasbourg she had been due to meet up with the EU’s digital commissioner Mariya Gabriel and discuss issues related to the future rollout of 5G on the bloc. However, EURACTIV understands that the meeting had to be cancelled because the Commissioner had to rush back to Sofia to manage the crisis emanating from Bulgaria’s biggest-ever breach of financial data, which is said to have affected almost every adult in the country.

Bulgaria hacking. On this subject, authorities in Bulgaria have arrested a 20-year-old Bulgarian cybersecurity worker for hacking the personal and financial records of millions of taxpayers.

Amazon. On Wednesday, the Commission announced that regulators will investigate Amazon to see if its use of other merchants’ data breaches EU antitrust rules. The investigation will hone in on Amazon’s standard agreements with marketplace sellers and its use of data in choosing winners of the “buy box”, which allows consumers to add items from a specific retailer directly into their shopping carts. Amazon has responded by saying it will cooperate fully with the investigation.

Qualcomm. On the subject of antitrust, the chipmaker Qualcomm has just been hit with a second EU antitrust fine, totalling €242 million, due to a predatory pricing strategy that purportedly attempted to undermine fair competition practices.

The Commission claims that the company sold chipsets to two customers at a low cost in order to push British phone software maker Icera, now part of Nvidia Corp, out of the market. Last year, the EU Commission fined Qualcomm 997 million euros last year for brokering a deal with Apple to ensure that they only used Qualcomm’s chips.

ENISA. The EU’s cybersecurity agency ENISA has elected Juhan Lepassaar, ex-head of cabinet for the EU’s former Commissioner for digital affairs, Andrus Ansip, as its new executive director. Lepassaar is set to make a statement before the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee of the European Parliament on 23 July 2019.

Office 365 ban. In a landmark move on Friday, the German Land of Hesse’s Data Protection Authority (DPA) ruled that schools are banned from using Microsoft’s cloud office product “Office 365”, due to concerns that the cloud platform exposes personal information about students and teachers “to possible access by US officials.”


On My Radar

New ENISA Director, Juhan Lepassaar, sits down with MEPs from Parliament’s industry committee to discuss the EU cyberagency’s future authority in bolstering the bloc’s cybersecurity clout. Look out for comments related to the scope of the EU’s cybersecurity act, adopted earlier this year.


What else I’m reading this week:


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