Jean-Claude Juncker’s new European Commission will have a vice-president in charge of digital and innovation, and a new commissioner post taking responsibility for internet and culture, according to leaked documents obtained by EURACTIV.
While the draft paper is clearly a work in progress and subject to change, it does raise questions about how Junker plans to pursue the EU’s digital agenda.
Digital policy is seen as part of the solution to Europe’s sluggish economic recovery, encouraging, for example, SMEs to go online in search of new markets.
Junker promised that he would be a ‘’digital president’’ during his campaign in May’s European elections. He has called for a digital Europe and a digital single market.
He even made it the subject of a tongue-in-cheek campaign video.
The promise was extracted from the three leading Spitzenkandidaten during the European elections by outgoing Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes. But details on how he plans to deliver a digital presidency have been sketchy.
The leak does not give all the answers. Some posts, such as the influential internal market commissioner, are missing, and different versions have circulated around Brussels.
Sources said that rumours suggesting the internal market job be combined with the digital agenda were thought to be ”highly speculative”. It is not borne out by the document seen by EURACTIV.
But industry sources also said that the new digital structure “did not quite gel” with what they had heard on the grapevine.
Industry asked for Juncker to create a “digital champion” to ensure digital is hardwired through the new Commission, cutting across portfolios.
“This person should be charged with applying an innovation principle – as opposed to a precautionary principle – to all EU legislation, and ensuring that EU policy is forward-looking, future-proof and consistent across the Commission with a well-defined set of goals,” the letter said.
It’s unclear whether the vice-president for digital and innovation will be this figure. Kroes was also a Commission vice-president. While she raised the portfolio’s profile, she did not have the authority to impose a digital policy on another portfolio.
Slovenia’s Alenka Bratušek is penciled in for the post, according to the leaked paper.
Internet and culture
The possible decision to combine internet and culture could have interesting ramifications for the EU debate over copyright reform and the digital agenda.
In July, Kroes said copyright reform, should “enable a digital single market, removing the barriers that get between artists and their audience, that prevent innovation, that shatter economies of scale.
“The EU’s leaders are signed up to a full, vibrant digital single market. So is President-designate Juncker. Now they need to act on their ambitions – copyright is a major, essential part.’’
Kroes pointed to the example of a European video-on-demand provider who wanted to expand into other EU countries. Ultimately, they gave up because of a patchwork of outdated copyright laws that varied across all the member states.
The commissioner for research and innovation also has a role to play in EU digital policy, awarding funding to new start-ups. These new companies often have a digital component.
According to the leak the job will go to Spain’s Miguel Arias Canete, who takes over from Ireland’s Màire Geoghegan-Quinn.
If ultimately confirmed the new Commission structure will give more importance to digital but whether it satisfies industry – and Kroes – remains to be seen.
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