Next European Commission – What are the tech issues that policymakers will target? #FHYearofChange

Crispin Maenpaa

A long read version of this article first appeared on 22 October

Tech policy can garner significant attention in Brussels, especially in light of Commissioner Vestager’s enforcement decisions against Apple, Google, and Amazon, as well as the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal.

While Commission President Jean Claude Juncker prophesied in 2014 that the Digital Single Market (DSM) would generate up to €250 billion of additional growth in Europe, the tech sector now gets more closely associated with tax avoidance, data hoarding, and copyright infringements.

Amidst this tone, it’s expected that the next Commission will direct its attention towards three main areas.

1. Improving the access to data

In 2016, Vice-President Ansip stated that there was a need to “break data silos in companies, public institutions and also across borders”. With strong data protection principles in place, the new Commission will be able to take on this battle, break up ‘data monopolies’, and push to open-up this data for access and re-use.

The Commission will establish a Support Centre for data sharing in early 2019, which will collect best practices, existing model contract terms and checklists. At present, on business to government (B2G) data-sharing, an expert group is assessing the B2G space and defining legal, economic, and technical obstacles.

Both initiatives are trademark first step towards future legislative actions.

2. Increasing the liability of platforms

Despite a series of voluntary measures drafted alongside online platforms, there has been increasing political pressure to deal with the contentious role of online platforms.

Both France and Germany have signalled their willingness to re-open the e-commerce Directive, which provides certain platforms with ‘limited liability’ for content uploaded to their service.  This would certainly open the Pandora’s Box of EU tech lobbying activity.

3. Ensuring that competition law can tackle digital markets

As policymakers clamour for praise in how competition policy has reigned in Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, it’s only natural that further reputation making verdicts will arrive.

In particular, on data, Commissioner Vestager has stated that ‘controlling large amounts of data shouldn’t become a way to shut rivals out of the market’, and this line of thought will characterize her call for contributions in ‘shaping competition policy in the era of digitisation’.

With ongoing questions about the role of data in mergers, and in the absence of issue-specific legislation, the next Commission will actively use a case-by-case approach to set precedents on what is acceptable in the digital terrain.