Recap 2010: European Commission
Counting down the days for New Years I wish to present a summary, my summary, of what the Commission has been doing over the past year.
Best is first!
The Commissioner for Competition Joaquín Almunia comes from Spain. In his first year, he’s been pushing Apple for more interoperability and less restrictions. He’s also expressed an explicit support for open standards and net neutrality as an unconditional pre-requisite for the social and economic development of Europe. He’s been clear that his directorate will do whatever it takes to uphold these values. Of course, one should bear in mind that DG Competition actually can’t do much. Their investigations run over several years, and the penalties they incur on businesses rarely have any lasting impact on the markets. Competition law further suffers from the weakness that it is virtually powerless in markets where the dominant actors aren’t one, but two or three (see Oracle/SUN merger). It’s disappointing that Almunia believes the current regulatory framework is sufficient to uphold the spirit of an open, inclusive and innovative internet, but a further analysis of this might better be sought in Public Knowledge’s text on the recently adopted FCC-rules on net neutrality.
In the past year Luxembourgian Commissioner Viviane Reding, previously at DG Information Society, now at DG Human Rights, has done everything from telling Latvia to regulate telecoms according to its national situation rather than the Spanish (thank you!) to telling Austria that a government dependent data protection authority isn’t actually an independent authority for monitoring government efforts to uphold the data protection for citizens. Reding raising the issue of member state inability to live up to standards of data protection set up by the Union is very positive, but we should perhaps still be concerned about her international company.
Former Commissioner for Competition, big business enemy #1, Dutch politician Neelie Kroes is the present Commissioner for Information Society. There were high expectations on Kroes when she assumed her role this spring. Unfortunately, an immediate let-down came in her embrace of licensed interoperability, rather than freely accessible open standards. And it it obvious that while she’s still critical of the telecommunications industry, both wired and wireless, the past year seems lined with strong statements about upsetting things that she doesn’t currently have any plans to do anything about, but wouldn’t be afraid to should she feel it necessary, which she doesn’t.
Somewhat hidden in the intellectual property rights and telecommunications debates is Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta with responsibility for customs, taxes and anti-fraud. The Lithuanian Commissioner has forcefully opined the need for stronger measures against counterfeiting (tooth paste and stuff) and particularly the counterfeiting of cigarettes which, as we all know, is costing the tobacco industry loads. In the context of the Šemeta initiative for a new, more effective and technologisized customs operation in Europe I’m reminded of a recent case where Nokia wanted to outsource protecting their intellectual property to UK customs and another few cases where Indian drugs have been seized with Commission support while in transit towards non-European markets. Normally when public institutions are involved, the public institutions outsource their activities to private actors. Obviously Nokia and Šemeta feel that in customs it is more appropriate to do it the other way around.
This French Commissioner is responsible for the inner market and has since his appointment been an adamant supporter of the EU patent. His targetted action has evolved into an approval of deeper patent cooperation between 17 member states, including Sweden. This is a very convenient way for the undemocratic nations in the Union to push their policies without having to go through the European Parliament or care about opposing voices in the Council of Ministers. Mark my words, this initiative will be EU-law in less than 3 years, they know it, and they’re happy. Barnier is also advocating stronger rights for broadcasters who are increasingly falling victim to evil pirates streaming their honestly produced contents. He hopes for an agreement on strong measures against this nefarious behaviour and wishes it to be pushed through the Council of Europe, thereby making it binding not only in the 27 member states but in the 47 ECHR signatory states. Inner market means you keep your stupid rules to yourself!
Karel de Gucht
As the successor of present high representative in foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, the Commissioner for Foreign Trade Karel de Gucht can’t be having an easy time. Fact is, you’d have to go as far back as the Ashton predecessor Peter Mandelson to find anything like him. Under Belgian rule, DG Trade has once again started repelling their African negotiation counterparts. ACTA is under DG Trade authority and de Gucht just can’t stop telling us how democratic it is. The Commissioner is also continuing the EU strategy of splittering trade alliances in other parts of the world through selectively striking dissimular agreements with a few of their members separately, last year with Colombia, Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia.
The Swedish Commissioner with responsibility for internal affairs has consistently failed in improving children’s rights over the past year. Cecilia Malmström has been a weak Commissioner, who apparently has not understood that the function of the Commission is to be a counter-weight to the national interests in the Council of Ministers. As the European Parliament has questioned her policies, she’s given answers that in the worst case might make her look slightly dumb. Internet blocking, data retention acceptance and an initiative to raise children’s rights to the same levels they have already been at for 10 years will be her 2010 legacy.
I would not go so far as to say many of the Commissioners could have done a better job. Or yes, I would.