It’s going to take two men to do one woman’s job at the new European Commission. The new line-up was announced on Wednesday following weeks of speculation and horse-trading of the sort that usually accompanies football transfers.
President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker has decided to create two Digital roles to replace the current Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes. The Juncker Commission will have new "super-commissioners" who will lead teams of other commissioners.
Former Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip will be Vice-President for the Digital Single Market and “steering” the current Energy Commissioner, Günther Oettinger, who will be Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society.
“By creating a connected digital single market, we can generate up to €250bn of additional growth in Europe in the course of the mandate of the next Commission, thereby creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, notably for younger job-seekers, and a vibrant knowledge-based society. The EU should become a leader in the creative industries, but in full respect of cultural diversity,” said Juncker in a prepared statement.
Ansip’s appointment was greeted with enthusiasm by the tech community, but Oettinger’s noticeably less so. When rumours of the German’s new role circulated last week, some - including Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda and Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht (in charge of overhauling the data protection directive) - took to Twitter to post horrified selfies under the hashtag #OMGoettinger.
“It is encouraging to see digital issues taking a prominent position in the new Commission. However, I cannot expect much from Commissioners Oettinger and Ansip, who will be in charge of internet policy. Oettinger, hasn't previously demonstrated any expertise in the area. It is unlikely that he can credibly fill in the footsteps of Neelie Kroes,” said the Pirate Party MEP .
While organisations such as The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and Huawei welcomed the two new roles, BSA, the Business Software Alliance, was gushing in its delight at the appointment of Ansip but made zero mention of Oettinger, who is not known for being especially technologically savvy.
According to a Commission source, Mr Oettinger himself is not best pleased. His team held briefings with the current DG CONNECT (the Commission’s digital agenda department) last week, but were apparently “put out” that they were not getting a more “prestigious” portfolio. Ansip, on the other hand, is likely to welcome his new position having put eServices at the top of Estonia’s agenda - the country’s eSignature and eID scheme is a world leader.
As well as taking on the current digital agenda portfolio, Oettinger will also be given charge of copyright issues. The ongoing Data Protection Regulation saga will fall to Věra Jourová of the Czech Republic, as Justice, Consumers & Gender Equality Commissioner, while Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager will have to untangle the Google case as Competition Commissioner if outgoing Joaquin Almunia does not resolve it before the end of October.
All the Commissioners will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Oettinger in particular can expect a grilling from MEPs in his hearing. However, it is very unusual for Parliament to reject a proposed Commissioner outright. ®