Parliamentary hearings Commissioners-designate: what did they say about digital?

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On 30 September, the Parliamentary hearings of the Commissioners-designate of the Von der Leyen Commission started. During these hearings, the European parliamentary committees question the European Commissioners-designate to test their knowledge, expertise and independence. The European Parliament cannot reject individual candidates, but they can request a second hearing in case of doubt or exert pressure to replace or re-position a specific candidate. The European Parliament can ultimately reject or accept the entire College of Commissioners. The Plenary vote is scheduled to take place on 21 October. In case of no delays with the decision, the new Commission will take office on 1 November.

First up in terms of digital, was Mariya Gabriel, the Commissioner-designate for Innovation and Youth. Her hearing on 30 September went by quite smoothly. Relevant remarks during the hearing most revolved around the need to invest in innovative technologies, including artificial intelligence. Gabriel backed the need for a review of the e-Commerce Directive. When being asked whether she supported the update of the 2000 legislation, she stated that “I will probably be very brief, but yes I do. We need to adapt our rules.” Following the hearing, EPP’s spokesman on industry, research and energy said: “Mariya Gabriel made a strong impression at this evening’s hearing and is 100 percent ready to take on the role as European Commissioner for Innovation and Youth.”

 The hearing of Sylvie Goulard, the Commissioner-designate for the Internal market, took place on 2 October. The main focus of the MEPs was on some of her past experiences that have been questioned by the authorities, both during her time as a MEP as well as in France. During her meeting, Goulard faced questions from the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO). Very few questions were actually posed with regards to the digital sphere. One of the rare questions on digital, came from Renew Europe MEP Dita Charanzová. She asked Goulard whether she will be able to open the Services Directive and pledge to not create any additional barriers in Europe. In her response, Goulard made a general reference to the improvement of the existing texts on services and stated that “Europe are four freedoms, we need to insist on that and respect freedom of services”. When pressed by Green MEP Kolaja about the likely upcoming initiative called “Digital Services Act” (DSA), Goulard said that an update of the e-Commerce Directive could be part of the expected DSA. Regarding the current liability regime, Goulard commented that “we should make sure that we don’t undermine the idea of liability, it is important not to do radical changes [to the e-Commerce Directive], but we can look in details what needs to be updated”. The consensus among MEPs (apart from her colleagues in Renew Europe) after Goulard’s hearing was that they still want more answers from her, in particular on legal and ethical issues. The EPP has stated that Goulard must face a second hearing and suggested that she should lose part of her portfolio. Other political groups are waiting to see if Goulard will need a second hearing until they have seen her answers to the written questions that were submitted by the MEPs after the first hearing.

In contrast, Paolo Gentiloni has managed to gain broad support for the approval of his position as Commissioner for the Economy. In his hearing with the Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) on 3 October, Gentiloni recommended countries with fiscal space to invest more in green and technological transformation. Where needed, he also stressed that budgetary discipline should be exercised. Furthermore, he promised to recommend majority voting for some tax proposals, although he acknowledged the legal and political difficulties of breaking the unanimity principle. In terms of digital taxes, Gentiloni was optimistic about reaching an agreement at international level next year, within the OECD and G20 frameworks. He furthermore stressed that the common corporate tax base would be a priority during his mandate. Concerning the fight against tax havens in the EU, Gentiloni stated that more needs to be done. The alleged conflict of interest concerning Gentiloni’s stocks in Amazon, was no issue in the hearing after he told the MEPs he had sold the stocks he had. After the meeting, there was enough consensus about the approval among the members of the committee that there even was no need for a vote.

Finally, Didier Reynders, the Commissioner-designate for Justice mentioned several relevant digital issues during his hearing on 2 October. Reynders stated he would put pressure on the adoption of the proposal for a Directive on representative actions for the protection of collective interests of consumers, which creates a mechanism for consumers to seek collective redress. Regarding the intention of Von der Leyen to publish a regulatory framework on artificial intelligence in the first 100 days of the mandate, Reynders said he would argue for a very horizontal, “ethics-by-design” approach, where AI products and services already have to take ethical issues into consideration from the early stages. Members of the European Parliament were generally satisfied with the performance of Didier Reynders in his hearing in front of the Committee for civil liberties, justice and home affairs and the Committee on legal affairs.

The hearing of the proposed Executive Vice-President for “A Europe fit for the Digital Age” and Commissioner-designate for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, will take place today from 14.30h to 17.30h.

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