+Comment Neelie Kroes' stint as the EU's “Commissioner for a Digital Agenda” ends when the Barroso II Commission closes up shop in the autumn. Perhaps the post should be abolished with her departure.
The Dutch economist could have carved out a distinctly European approach, distinct from the Asian autocracies and American Wild West, but failed to do so.
Instead, Kroes' tenure was marked out by a wide-eyed pandering to fads – in the hope of winning the affections of “civil society” – and a overly welcoming approach to Silicon Valley. The agenda she promoted is more Californian than a Beach Boys karaoke surf board. Good luck finding anything European in that.
Kroes' officials were at it again this week. A year ago they were telling us, in background briefings, that net neutrality legislation was a terrible idea, propagated by the pig ignorant and tinfoil hat lunatics.* On Tuesday, the commissioner’s office was tweeting that Europeans are naked without net neutrality legislation – and claimed it was stepping in to “save us”.
Ryan Heath is Neelie’s representative on Earth
So what’s going on?
Anyone but Neelie
Most of you regular readers will already have figured out that the “Steelie” in the Steelie Neelie nickname is ironic. The European Commissioner for a Digital Agenda (to give her the full title) has never seen a fad, a cause or a campaign from Silicon Valley or its “policy entrepreneurs” (how Google’s front groups like to describe themselves) she didn’t like. Whenever Big Californian Tech required Kroes' office to jump, the response was “how high?” This, combined with staggering naivety, has had some pretty strange consequences.
We've Opened up the British Library! Oh no you haven't
For example, last June Kroes' office trumpeted its open data directive, really a set of tweaks (PDF) to existing guidelines for the disclosure of public sector information. The press release proclaimed:
[EU citizens] will also have access to more exciting and inspirational content since materials in national museums, libraries and archives now fall under the scope of the Directive.
The British Library chuckled when I read this back to them. Copyright materials in museum collections and archives had never been under the scope of the 2003 rules, and these sectors were specifically excluded in the 2013 revision (see PDF above, paragraph 22).
Why did the commission’s office imply a mere directive trumped established copyright statutes and treaties? Why did it pretend the directive applied to areas it specifically excluded? Either Steelie Neelie’s press team couldn’t understand her own directive, or it had deliberately chosen to mislead, to pander, to strike a pose.
Even stranger was the office’s insistence that it would recommend Creative Commons licences for the data sets. Why recommend something designed for cultural works, for copyrightable material, to govern the use of dry tables of data? No one else does.
“They’re the best licence for the job,” insisted Kroes’ proxy, although he couldn’t name a single precedent. I later learned that the commission had been star-struck by Lawrence Lessig – the man who invented Creative Commons, and hardly a disinterested bystander.