Digital Brief: Macron’s audition

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“We have never seen the CEO of a company directly become an EU Commissioner working in the same area of competence.”

– Sven Giegold, Green MEP, Wednesday 13 November. 


BRETON. It’s really all about Macron today. The sentiment among EU officials is that should a vote take place on Breton’s appointment for the Internal Market portfolio today, which is scheduled to take place directly after the hearing, he could well be turned down by an alliance of GUE, S&D and Green coordinators. Breton requires the support of coordinators representing at least two-thirds of committee members. Should he be turned down once again, Macron would be left feeling very, very embarrassed.

At the time of reporting, Breton has been keen to appeal to the Germans sitting in Parliament  – speaking of his family roots in the country. But there are political battles that need to be won before he can reach out across country borders.

One EPP source told EURACTIV that some Socialists could be won round by von der Leyen’s concessions yesterday to rename Margaritis Schinas’ portfolio to the “promotion of the European way of life” and the fact that ‘social rights’ have been added to the title of Commissioner-designate Nicolas Schmit. The president of the S&D Group in the Parliament, Iratxe Garcia, heralded the changes as a success for the Socialists, calling the revisions “very positive.”

On the tech front, Breton’s appointment matters – should he receive Parliament’s approval, he will oversee the Commission’s DG Connect, responsible for building digital policy.

Early into his hearing today, he spoke about the importance of the forthcoming Digital Services Act  – which the Commission is due to present in 2020. Breton said that the plans will help to improve the “fluidity and flow of digital services in the EU.” Renew’s Dita Charanzová pressed him on whether the limited liability clause of the eCommerce directive will be negatively impacted by the DSA. Breton said that is wouldn’t be.

The hearing continues. Follow is live with EURACTIV reporters here.

UK CYBERATTACKS. Both the UK’s Conservative and Labour parties have been subject to several “sophisticated and large-scale” cyber-attacks across its digital platforms emanating from an unknown source this week. The news comes as UK political groups jockey for influence in the run-up to the general election on 12 December.

HUNGARIAN CYBERATTACKS. It’s also happening in Hungary. EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov reports this week that the website of Erzsébetváros’s (Budapest 7th district) municipal government has been subjected to multiple cyberattacks, with hackers posting obscenities about the newly elected opposition mayor. The attacks come after Budapest held its municipal elections in October and the governing Fidesz party lost its majority.

PARIS CYBERSECURITY CALL. President Macron took advantage of this week’s Paris Peace forum to speak about the importance of bolstering cybersecurity amongst global partners. The Paris call for trust and security in cyberspace, Macron’s attempt to forge a series of norms in cyberspace, includes signatories from 74 states.

However, there are some notable absentees from the list – such as the US, Russia and China. John Frank, Vice President for EU Affairs at Microsoft, took part in a discussion alongside French government officials during this year’s forum and implored the US to sign up, following commitments from various US local and state representatives to the measures. “The Paris Call builds on international norms that the U.S. has endorsed previously, with the addition of one new commitment that the U.S. should find easy to support: the protection of elections,” he wrote following the meeting.

EDPS. Yesterday, I caught up with Yann Padova – one of the candidates to become the next European Data Protection Supervisor. Those on the shortlist also include Endre Szabó and Wojciech Wiewiórowski, the acting head of EU’s institutional data protection watchdog following the passing of Giovanni Butarelli. A hearing of all candidates will take place on 25 November in Strasbourg.

Padova told me he is pitching himself as a ‘bridge builder’ for the role, using his experience both in the public and private sphere to ensure that institutional staff members are more clued up on the importance of data protection issues. Padova isn’t someone who believes that innovation is hindered by data protection regulation, but that the two can be comfortable bedfellows. However, he believes that the Commission’s plans to introduce a coordinated AI strategy within the first 100 days will be “very challenging,” and, from a legal perspective, rather risky – bearing in mind the importance of data protection in any future Artificial Intelligence strategy.

SLOVENIA SPYING CONCERNS. EURACTIV’s Željko Trkanjec reports this week that the Parliamentary Committees for the Control of Intelligence and Security Services has concluded that the Slovenian diplomat, Simona Drenik, should be blamed for the interception of her conversation with a former Slovenian judge during the arbitrage process at the Permanent Court of Arbitration regarding the border with Croatia by Croatian intelligence. “Every schoolgirl who saw any of James Bond movies knows that it is not safe to communicate on fixed lines,” said Minister of Defence Karl Erjavec. Simona Drenik said she did not break secrecy rules and attacked the committee for politicising the process.

HUAWEI in HUNGARY. Devices provided by the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei play a core role in the operation of Hungarian state infrastructure, including in the country’s emergency services, an in-depth investigative report by Direkt36 shows. The US responded to the news by reaffirming the fact that they have “strong concerns” about the company.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports this week that Angela Merkel is looking at the possibility of tightening cybersecurity rules aimed at sidelining the Huawei, after increased US pressure.

WEB REGULATION. Mathias Vermeulen, who previously worked in the office of former MEP Marietke Schaake and is now with the Mozilla Foundation in Brussels, published a paper on the initiatives to regulate the internet, earlier this week. The report, commissioned by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), recommends the regulation of “platform-specific architectural amplifiers of illegal or harmful content.” Vermeulen adds that these “are active design choices over which platforms have direct control, and for which they could ultimately be held liable.”

TERREG. Elsewhere, the Cloud Infrastructure Services Providers in Europe (CISPE) put on an event in the European Parliament earlier this week, hosted by MEP Marina Kaljurand and MEP Patrick Breyer, Shadow Rapporteurs for the Terrorist Content Online Regulation. CISPE continue to rally against the inclusion of cloud services providers in the scope of regulation. “Europe’s cloud infrastructure service providers are being asked to do the impossible. Unlike platforms, they cannot access the data and content controlled by our customer and have no general control or access to what specific content is placed online,” read a statement from Alban Schmutz, chair of CISPE.

LIBRA. EU finance ministers agreed on Friday (8 November) on a draft statement calling for an EU approach to “appropriately tackle the challenges” raised by ‘stablecoins’, digital tokens backed by sovereign currencies.

The European Commission has called for a “proportionate” and differentiated approach to regulating digital currencies including Facebook’s Libra, as the EU needs to preserve is developing Fintech environment. Read more from our very own Jorge Valero.

DIGITAL EDUCATION. A report from the Centre for European Policy Studies published earlier this week found that Estonia, the Netherlands and Finland excel in the digitalisation of education, while Italy and Germany finished last. Read more here

TESLA. EURACTIV’s Sam Morgan reports this week that US electric car firm Tesla will build its European base of operations in Germany, near Berlin, according to company founder Elon Musk, who made the long-awaited announcement on Tuesday (12 November).

NETFLIX. Poland’s prime minister has penned a letter to online streaming company Netflix, demanding changes to The Devil Next Door, a documentary about the Nazi death camps, which he says misrepresents Poland as being responsible for the death camps.



On my radar.

Next week’s .EU web awards. More information on the ceremony here.


What else I’m reading this week:

Upcoming Events

EU data sovereignty: Opportunities and Challenges. Euractiv. December 2. 

Cybersecurity: What does it mean to EU citizens? Euractiv. December. 

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