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Europe’s digital strategy will likely be led by the liberal former Estonian prime minister, Andrus Ansip, and the current energy commissioner, center-right German politician Günther Oettinger. This became apparent on Wednesday after Jean-Claude Juncker, the president-elect of the European Commission, unveiled his team.
The new-look Commission still needs to be approved by the European Parliament, then formally appointed by the European Council (representing the member states, each of whom nominated a commissioner). However, if all goes according to Juncker’s plan, then Ansip (pictured above) will become the Commission vice-president in charge of the “Digital Single Market” and Oettinger (pictured left) will take over the new “Digital Economy and Society” portfolio, dealing with issues like net neutrality.
The outgoing Commission has just one explicit “Digital Agenda” role, fulfilled by Dutch politician Neelie Kroes, who has also acted as a Commission vice president.
Ansip will oversee technological issues that various departments are dealing with, from spectrum allocation and competition law to copyright (now under Oettinger’s care), skills development and data protection. Europe’s single-market project is utterly crucial for tech firms, as it gives them much more regulatory and commercial certainty when trying to address the 28 member states.
At first glance, Oettinger’s experience may prove handy. The move toward connected homes is tightly bound with the move toward greater efficiency and the development of renewable energy technologies, and having someone with an appreciation for both industries will probably be no bad thing.
Ansip, however, as a more checkered past, as Pirate parliamentarian Julia Reda pointed out:
Oettinger and Ansip aren’t the only senior policy-makers whom tech firms and civil society will need to engage with on the digital front. Notably, Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager will succeed Spain’s Joaquín Almunia in the competition directorate.
Assuming that the big Google search antitrust case doesn’t get wrapped up by the end of October – a near certainty after Almunia was forced to reject the U.S. firm’s most recent proposals on the weekend – Vestager (pictured right) will be taking over one of the most important legal battles in the tech world, and possibly shaping the future of [company]Google[/company] itself. Don’t forget, there may still be a second case around Android.
And then there’s center-left V?ra Jourová of the Czech Republic, who will be in charge of the Justice, Consumers & Gender Equality portfolio. That means she will most likely take over the Commission’s handling of the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation, proposed by her predecessor Viviane Reding and currently awaiting final approval by the Council. This covers privacy and the right to be forgotten, so again it’s a pretty big deal for the tech world.
What’s more, in a letter (PDF) to Oettinger, Juncker wrote: “On the basis of the outcome of this legislative process, you should prepare a reform of the e-Privacy Directive, liaising closely with the Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, with the support of the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.” The e-Privacy Directive is only a couple of years old — it’s the legislation that requires websites to ask users to opt into being tracked by cookies — so it will be interesting to see what reform will take place here.
Also worth remembering: Carlos Moedas, a Portuguese politician who will now be the commissioner for “Research, Innovation and Science,” and Poland’s El?bieta Bie?kowska, who will be the “Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs” commissioner.
This article has been updated several times as new information has come in (and as someone pointed out to me that Almunia is Spanish, not Portuguese — my bad).