Digital Brief: Commissioners On Trial

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“Concerning technologies of the future, such as artificial intelligence or 5G for example, the European Union can establish rules and standards.”

Sylvie Goulard, Commissioner-Designate for the Internal Market, Wednesday 2 October.


“We need to take care of fundamental rights from the design (stage) of platforms, applications and products.”

Didier Reynders, Commissioner-Designate for Justice, Wednesday 2 October.


“It’s time to invest.”

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner-Designate for Innovation and Youth, Monday 30 September.


COMMISSIONER HEARINGS. Honing in on the tech aspects of the hearings this week, here are my takeaways for Reynders, Gabriel & Goulard, each of whom will have a hand in the EU’s digital future.

GOULARD. Goulard’s hearing was overshadowed by past controversies which MEPs made sure she wouldn’t forget. Such included her involvement in investigations in France and by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), related to staff payments when she was an MEP, and on remuneration she declared from a US-based think tank. On policy, and particularly digital policy, the hearing was light-touch, with Goulard failing to really engage with some of the pressing issues. However, in her opening statement, she highlighted the importance of establishing a Digital Services Act, saying that the EU “will also continue our work with new legislation on digital services, which must update the eCommerce directive adopted 20 years ago.” She added that in this regard, the Commission will address “issues linked to platforms and user protection, guaranteeing non-discrimination and child protection.” On AI and 5G, she rallied Europe’s clout in the field for establishing “rules and standards” rather than competing globally in developing technologies of the future, which frankly the Commission knows the EU simply does not have the clout nor the money to do.

REYNDERS. On the tech front, Reynders delivered several notable points. On Von der Leyen’s promise to deliver a strategy on Artificial Intelligence and Ethics in the first 100 days of the new Commission, Reynders said that he would advocate for an ‘ethics-by-design’ approach, whereby products and services using AI take into account ethical guidelines at the earliest possible stage in their development. In addition, Reynders also took aim at the US Cloud Act, which gives US law enforcement agencies the legal right to force the release of customer data outside the US, resulting in an “extraterritorial reach of powers”, according to the European Data Protection Board. Reynders agreed that the Cloud Act is currently being applied with an “extraterritorial” effect. Along this axis, Reynders said that once the EU has adopted a position on eEvidence, which Parliament still needs to affirm its stance on, then discussions can begin with the US with regards to the transfer of electronic evidence.  “Of course, I don’t have any intention to conclude a negotiation with the US before an agreement inside the European Union,” Reynders said.

GABRIEL. Smooth sailing for the Bulgarian who has managed to hone her (French) public speaking skills during her time overseeing one of the two Digital portfolios in the current Commission. She wants to create closer networks for research programs, greater integration in science and technology education for Europe’s regions, and to invest heavily in innovative technologies of the future, in order to preserve Europe’s strategic autonomy. She also backed plans for the EU’s overhaul of the e-commerce directive.

GENTILONI. Speaking in front of MEPs this morning, Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s EU Commissioner-designate for Economic Affairs, confirmed that he has divested the shares he once had in the eCommerce platform Amazon, following concerns that his affiliation to the firm could jeopardise his Commission seat. “It’s all sold, all the shares have been sold,” he said after being pressed by GUE’s French MEP Manon Aubry.

COPYRIGHT TRANSPOSITION. In a pan-European study, this week we published a Special Capitals Edition surveying the passage to transposition of the EU’s copyright directive.  Our survey came following France’s transposition of the new rules, which provoked a heated response from the platform industry with Google recently announcing technical changes to their news-display service, avoiding the legal obligation to pay press publishers for the content they create under the new rules. The results we found were a mixed bag, with still some divergent positions across member states. Read the report here.

ECJ RULINGS. It’s been a busy week in Luxembourg. The storage of online cookies requires ‘active consent’ from web users, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on Tuesday (1 October), and EU law may be used to force Facebook to proactively remove content on its platform previously declared to be illegal, the ECJ said today.

BREXIT. The UK government released a series of reports yesterday for preparing for no-deal Brexit for those that provide digital, technology and computer services. In addition, several reports have been released giving guidance on how to mitigate the potential disruption to sectors including media and broadcasting, arts and culture, and the creative industries more generally. And reports are starting to surface more widely on how bad Brexit will be for the tech sector, with rapid changes to the jobs market and investment levels likely to happen in a no-deal scenario.

SOCIAL MEDIA ADS. A report published today from Privacy International, a UK-based charity that promotes the right to online privacy, says that Social media companies have failed to provide adequate advertising transparency to users globally. The analysis comes ahead of the European Commission’s final report on the companies’ commitments to the self-regulatory Code of Practice on Disinformation. The final report, due in November 2019, will indicate to what extent the companies have met their commitments within the Code of Practice.

EU STANDARDS. Carl Bildt, former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden, has led a report drawn up by a high-level group of technology and policy experts which finds that the bloc needs to “keep its focus on leading in global digital standards setting” if it doesn’t want to follow “rules and norms set by China and other players.”

CONSUMER TECH PROTECTION. EU Consumer rights group BEUC came out with a bold message for the incoming European Commission earlier this week, publishing a report on competition law in the digital economy – highlighting risks around big data, analytics, controlled ecosystems, excessive data collection and more.

DIGITAL TAX. In written answers to EU lawmakers published on Friday, Commissioners-designate said the bloc should agree on a digital tax if no deal on the matter was reached at a global level by the end of next year.

FAKE NEWS. When NATO’s Centre for Strategic Communication in Riga discovered how easy it was to dupe its soldiers online, it has started looking for ways of countering false information, which comes, in large part, from Russia.

GRETA DISINFORMATION. Staying with the subject of disinformation, EUvsDisinfo, the flagship project of the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force, published an interesting article today on the fake news churned about by Russian media outlets against teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg.

GERMAN DATA PROCESSING CRIMINAL ACTIVITY. German investigators said Friday they have shut down a data processing centre installed in a former NATO bunker that hosted sites dealing in drugs and other illegal activities. Seven people were arrested.


On my radar.

In terms of the Commissioner hearings, in the tech world, we still have VP designate for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, coming up on Monday (14.30-17.30), and Digital VP Margarethe Vestager on Tuesday (14.30-17.30).

Elsewhere, I’m heading to Yerevan, Armenia, for the World Congress on Information Technology – if you’re heading along, drop me a line. 


What else I’m reading this week:


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