By Emmanuel Legrand
The new college of European Commissioners led by Germany's Ursula von der Leyen as President-elect of the European Commission will have the task to steer the European Union through the challenges posed by changes in climate, digital technologies and geopolitics, according to the mission letter sent to all 27 Commissioners-designated.
The college of Commissioners now needs to be vetted by the European Parliament and will take over from the Junker Commission on November 1 for a period of five years.
Three key Commissioners will be mainly dealing with the creative sector, across issues such as copyright, technology and culture: Margrethe Vestager, Sylvie Goulard and Mariya Gabriel.
Vestager: ensuring the digital transition
> Primus inter pares is Vestager, the current Danish Commissioner in charge of competition. She is going to be one of the three Executive Vice-President of the Commission, and has been given the portfolio Europe Fit for Digital Age. In addition to competition, she will oversee the digital agenda, which was until now split between Vice President Andrus Ansip, who has chosen to become a member of the Parliament, and Mariya Gabriel, in charge of digital economy and society.
"As Executive Vice-President, you will have a dual function," wrote Von der Leyen to Vestager in her mission letter. "You will chair the Commissioners’ Group on a Europe fit for the Digital Age. In addition, you will be responsible for the competition portfolio."
The letter continues: "The digital transition will have an impact on every aspect of our economy and society. Your task will be to ensure that Europe fully grasps the potential of the digital age and strengthens its industry and innovation capacity. This will be a key part of strengthening our technological leadership and strategic autonomy."
Vestager has been tasked with coordinating a new long-term strategy for Europe’s industrial future; maximising the contribution of investment in research and innovation in supporting our policy objectives; co-leading the work on a new SME strategy to support small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups; looking at how Europe can use and share non-personalised big data to develop new technologies and business models that create wealth for EU's societies and businesses; coordinating the work on upgrading liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and products as part of a new Digital Services Act; and coordinating the work on digital taxation to find a consensus at international level by the end of 2020 or to propose a fair European tax.
Goulard: an IP regime fit for the digital age
> As proposed Commissioner for Internal Market, Sylvie Goulard, who was nominated by French President Emmanuel Macron, will be in charge of copyright issues and will also oversee e-commerce issues. "I want you to take a close look at our intellectual property regime to ensure that it is coherent, is fit for the digital age and supports our competitiveness," wrote Von der Leyen to Goulard.
Goulard will work under the guidance of Vestager and will oversee a new Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space, as well as the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology and the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs.
Gabriel: promote creative industries
> As for Gabriel, she is now in charge of Innovation and Youth, which includes Education, research and innovation as well as Culture, youth and sport. Gabriel will oversee the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.
Von der Leyen has asked her to focus on ensuring the full implementation of the New European Agenda for Culture; developing ways to strengthen Europe’s commitment to preserving and protecting our cultural heritage, notably by making the most of digital technologie; promoting creative industries as a catalyst for innovation, jobs and growth and maximise the potential of an ambitious Creative Europe Programme; fostering cultural cooperation as a part of the Union’s partnerships with countries around the world.
Gabriel will work under the guidance of Vestager in matters relating to research and innovation, and with Margaritis Schinas, the Greec Vice-President for Protecting our European Way of Life in matters relating to education, culture, youth and sports. Schinas has been asked to "harness the full potential of culture and sport to bring our communities closer together."
Make culture visible!
However, many voices, including at the European Parliament, lamented the fact that the word culture had disappeared from the Commission's portfolios. France's rights society for drama authors SACD lamented the absence of culture in the attributions of Commissioners. "Culture is neither a dirty word nor a taboo word," wrote SACD's Director of public and European affairs Guillaume Prieur. "So, if the ambition to maintain the course of a Europe that protects its creators and supports its cultural creation in the digital age is there, the European Union must clearly show this political priority, not only in the missions of the commissioners but also in the organisation chart of the Commission. We must make Culture visible!"
Overall, representatives from creative industries, which have followed the nomination of the new Commission with interest and anticipation, have reacted positively to the new college. The allocation of the digital portfolio to Vestager, in addition to competition, could well mean that the tech companies, which have been regular targets of the antitrust department in Brussels, will be kept in check. "Copyright will be under Goulard, but overseen by Vestager. Somewhat comparable to Gabriel/Oettinger and Ansip previously. A hell of a big ask for Vestager," says a Brussels-based source.
"Trade, digital, competition and tech policy were central to our work under the Juncker Commission and these issues are only going to grow in importance," commented John Phelan, the Brussels-based Director General of ICMP, the International Confederation of Music Publishers. "For example, anti-piracy is now often tackled within the EU‘s trade agreements with the world, while EU digital policy is helping to ensure fair valuation for music online which in turn is creating a positive corollary in the US."
Big guns with gravitas
He continued: "We’ll be working most closely with President Von der Leyen, Executive Vice-President Vestager, Commissioners [Phil] Hogan [in charge of Trade], Goulard and [Paolo] Gentiloni [in charge of Economy]. Experience and pedigree are the attributes which strike me most about those responsible for music industry policy areas. Each one is long steeped in European and international politics. They are big guns and will have the gravitas to tackle the many thorny issues ahead. Let’s wait for the European Parliament’s approval process to see who’s in situ come November 1."
Indie music companies, represented by IMPALA, also had a positive view on the new Commission. "We look to the European Parliament’s views on the proposals made [by Von der Leyen]," said Helen Smith, the Executive Chair of IMPALA. "If accepted, Ms. Vestager would be responsible for digital and competition and we would look to her to continue to take a strong stance on digital gatekeepers and scrutinise the proposed sale of shares in Universal Music very closely. Now is the time to increase regulatory scrutiny of online platforms and rethink how strategic shareholdings are assessed in the EU."
Added Smith, "We also look forward to working with Ms. Goulard, who will be in charge of copyright and e-commerce under the internal market banner. Culture will be vital for this commission and it will be the responsibility of Ms. Gabriel. Culture has strategic importance for Europe and although culture does not appear in any of the commissioner-designates' titles, we expect the commission to take a real industrial policy approach to unlocking the full potential of Europe's cultural and creative sectors, one of the EU's main assets."
The EU as a bell-weather for the world
The work of the European Commission regarding the tech sector is now under more scrutiny than before since it has shown leadership in such issues as taxation or the liability of platforms. "The EU is increasingly a bell-weather for other jurisdictions we work in worldwide," said ICMP's Phelan. "For example, Canada and Australia have or are analysing Europe’s work on Safe Harbour and Value Gap, while New Zealand and Japan have recently felt the pressure of the need to harmonise copyright term duration."
For Phelan, one of the main battles fought in Europe over the last five years by the creative sector was "for fairer valuation of music across all forms of online platforms." He explained: "That will continue, for we are not there yet. However I think an additional challenge for this incumbent Commission will be securing more effective enforcement of copyright. Piracy is an online panther and Europe is in serious need of more robust, more modern and more efficient counter measures."