Digital Commissioner candidates prepare for the Parliament's 'grill'

By Francine Cunningham

10-2019

'Technological sovereignty' is set to be an over-arching theme, as Commissioner nominees with responsibility for the digital economy prepare to be grilled by Members of the European Parliament over the next week.

Internal Market Commissioner-elect, Sylvie Goulard, is due to appear at her European Parliament Hearing on Wednesday, (2 October), where members of the Industry and Internal Market Committees will lead the questioning. The French politician will be asked about plans for a new EU industrial strategy, proposals to regulate online platforms and bring forward legislation on artificial intelligence, as well as how to reinforce cybersecurity on telecoms networks.  Goulard will also be asked how she will guide effective implementation of the raft of Digital Single Market laws adopted during the previous mandate. 

While her portfolio is extremely broad in scope, the former Deputy Governor of the Bank of France will, nevertheless, find herself in familiar surroundings since she previously served in the European Parliament as an MEP for the Liberal group (2009-17). Yet she could face some awkward questions over an ongoing investigation concerning alleged misuse of EU funds by her former party. 

According to the 'mission letter' sent by President-elect Ursula von der Leyen, Goulard is set to have a leading role in shaping industrial and technology policy in the next College of Commissioners. She will oversee DG Connect, the department responsible for steering the Digital Single Market strategy. Among her responsibilities, Goulard will coordinate the EU approach to Artificial Intelligence, where the incoming Commission President has promised a legislative proposal within her first 100 days. She will also coordinate work on a 'Digital Services Act' which is expected to be the most comprehensive intervention by the Commission to date to regulate online platforms. 

In addition, Goulard is tasked with achieving a 'real single market' for cybersecurity and improving the link between space, defence and security. If that was not enough, the Internal Market Commissioner-elect has also been requested to contribute to a long-term, comprehensive strategy for Europe's industrial future. 

Meanwhile, the Executive Vice-President-elect for a 'Europe fit for the digital age', Margrethe Vestager, is due to appear at her European Parliament Hearing on 8 October. The Industry, Internal Market and Economic Committees will lead the questioning of Vestager, who along with her new responsibilities would also continue in her current role as Competition Commissioner. 

MEPs are set to question Vestager on her digital policy priorities, including the forthcoming 'Digital Services Act' and the imminent Artificial Intelligence legislative proposal. They will also want to know how she plans to coordinate work on digital taxation to either find a consensus at international level by the end of 2020, or propose a 'fair European tax.'

In addition, MEPs are set to ask Vestager how she intends to coordinate digital strategy along with Goulard and fellow Commissioners. The Danish politician will also be asked to explain how she will apply the 'one in, one out' principle, referring to the President-elect's policy that every legislative proposal creating new burdens should relieve people and businesses of an equivalent, existing burden at EU level in the same policy area. 

Vestager has promised to keep her position as Competition Commissioner separate from her new role as Executive Vice President of digital strategy, according to her written answers to MEPs ahead of the Hearing.  However, in view of the strategic importance of Vestager's dual function in the new Commission structure, her responses will be closely watched for any indication of how she intends to combine competition enforcement with the legislative tools that will be at her disposal in the digital field. 

The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on 23 October on whether to accept or reject the incoming College of Commissioners. Tensions have been running high following the early objections to the Romanian candidate for the Transport portfolio, Rovana Plumb, and the Hungarian candidate for Neighbourhood & Enlargement, Laszlo Trocsanyi, expressed by the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee last week. Time has already been allocated for more Hearings for alternative candidates before 23 October, if this is required.  Unless a search for new candidates results in delays, the new Commissioners are expected to take up their seats on 1 November.

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