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Pirate MEP Crowdsources Internet Policy Questions For Designated EU Commissioners

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, September 26 2014

While the Pirate Party within Germany was facing internal disputes over the last week, the German Pirate Party member in the European Parliament, Julia Reda, is seeking to make the European Commission appointment process more transparent by crowdsourcing questions for the designated Commissioner for Digital Economy & Society and the designated Vice President for the Digital Single Market.

In a blog post, Reda explains that all the designated commissioners will appear in three hour long public web-streamed hearings over the next week before the Parliament, during which they face at most 45 questions from the various political groups in the Parliament, who divide up the questions based on the committees that are relevant to the commission's portfolio.

"This immediately raises the question of which committees are considered relevant. In many national parliaments, committees are formed after the government has announced its ministers and cabinets," she writes. "This is not true for the European Parliament, which has already formed its committees in July, when we had no idea what the new Commission would look like."

She points out that Günther Oettinger, the designated Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, is set to oversee communication networks, copyright, e-commerce, online civil liberties, IT security and digital works, which are variously the responsibility the committees on industry, legal affairs, the internal market, home affairs and culture.

In addition to Oettinger, a conservative politician from Germany who was most recently EU Commissioner for Energy, Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker also nominated Andrus Ansip as the Vice President for the Digital Single Market. Ansip is a liberal politician who is a former Prime Minister of Estonia, a country known for its embrace of e-government and the digital economy.

Oettinger will go before the Parliament on Monday, while Ansip will go before Parliament a week from Monday.

"When one of the smaller groups such as the Greens/EFA, of which I am a member, tries to distribute its four questions to Oettinger among the committees, it is clear that some important topics are going to remain untouched and many MEPs will not get to ask any questions at all," Reda writes in her blog post. She notes that in the past, the European Commission made use of its power to reject a designee when an Italian nominee made homophobic and sexist remarks during a 2004 hearing.

"But if Commission President Juncker wants to make good on his ambition to make this a more political (rather than just administrative) Commission, the scrutiny cannot stop there," she writes. "That’s why I am calling on the designated Commissioners to open themselves to questions by the general public."

To that end, she has set up the platform to pose questions to the two Commissioners on Internet topics. "I will personally have the chance to ask each of them one question in the upcoming hearings and will take the opportunity to ask them to also address the questions collected from you, the Internet users," she writes.

On the platform, users not only have the ability to ask questions but also to vote for existing questions and make comments.

For Ansip, the top questions so far are "I heard on the internet that you are (were?) a big supporter of [intellectual property treaty] ACTA. What have you learned from its resounding defeat by citizens?," "Do you support Open Document formats and interoperability," as well as questions about universal Internet access, stopping the "surveillance of European citizens," and support for "single unified European copyright."

For Oettinger, the top questions ask him to clarify his remarks about having "absolute or staggered net neutrality," his support for fair use, promotion of encryption, the establishment of a Linux fund, and his Internet experiences and how to achieve European digital sovereignty.

After the announcement of the designees earlier this month, Reda called the choices "misguided." She wrote on her website that Oettinger "hasn’t demonstrated any expertise in the area so far," adding that it was "unlikely that he can credibly fill in the footsteps of Neelie Kroes," and also noted Ansip's support for the ACTA agreement shortly before the European Parliament rejected it.

However, Reda did welcome that Juncker reassigned the copyright responsibility to the digital portfolio. "A topic of such broad social prominence can no longer be viewed solely from a perspective of commercial interests," she wrote. " With 11,000 replies, the latest EU consultation on the matter saw record participation numbers."

In addition, she praised Juncker's intent to give the commission more political force. "Juncker’s apparent effort to form a truly political Commission is a good sign. Many of the new Commissioners previously held leading political positions in the member states," she wrote. "However, it is not enough to simply politicise the commission. A real European democracy requires a Commission that is transparent and open to Europeans’ participation, as well as not hiding behind an understanding of itself as purely administrative."

In his appointments of Oettinger and Ansip, Juncker outlined what he sees as their priorities. In his public "mission letter" to Anslip, Juncker emphasizes the need to "need to break down national silos in telecoms regulation, in copyright and data protection legislation and in the management of radio waves." Within the first six months of the mandate, Juncker writes that he expects "ambitious legislative steps towards a connected Digital Single Market, notably by adding more ambition to the ongoing reform of our telecoms rules, modernising copyright rules in the light of the ongoing digital revolution...and modernising and simplifying consumer rules for online and digital purchases" and the conclusion of "negotiations on the reform of Europe’s data protection rules as well as the review of the Safe Harbour arrangement with the U.S," which compels U.S. companies to comply with EU data protection rules.

The mission letter also calls on Ansip to support a jobs, growth and investment package that will "mobilise additional public and private investment for infrastructure such as broadband networks," champion eGovernment approaches across member states and ensure that competition and taxation rules "are conducive to higher levels of public and private investment."

The letter to Oettinger goes into somewhat more detail on the same issues, emphasizing the goal of establishing "the right regulatory environment to foster investment and innovative businesses." Juncker emphasizes that the "users" should be at the center. "They should be able to use their mobile phones across Europe without having to pay roaming charges. They should be offered access to services, music, movies and sports events on their electronic devices wherever they are in Europe and regardless of borders," he writes. "You will also need to ensure that the right conditions are set, including through copyright law, to support cultural and creative industries and exploit their potential for the economy."

He calls on Oettinger to help ensure that "promising new developments such as the cloud, the Internet of Things and big data can thrive in Europe," to modernize administration in the European Commission, to work on making the EU a leader in cyber security preparedness with an emphasis on "trustworthy" information technology and increasing the confidentiality of communications, to prepare a reform of the e-privacy directive and to work with international partners "to build a global governance architecture for the Internet which is legitimate, transparent, accountable, sustainable and inclusive" to ensure that "the Internet remains open...."