Today, President-elect of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, revealed the list of nominated commissioners who will constitute the new College of Commissioners of the European Union for the next five years. The least we can say is that she has set the bar very high when it comes to regulating the digital economy. None less than three commissioners have been tasked with overseeing the digital economy within the European Union.
Margrethe Vestager: Europe's new digital watchdog
Margrethe Vestager retains her role as Commissioner for Competition in addition to coordinating the agenda on "a Europe fit for the digital age". Margrethe Vestager has also been named Executive Vice-President to the EU Commission. In terms of hierarchy, this means Margrethe Vestager will sit immediately beneath the President of the EU Commissioner together with two other Executive Vice-Presidents, which sends a clear signal about the importance of her position within the College of Commissioners. Margrethe Vestager has also inherited a broader portfolio, ranging from cybersecurity, big data, as well as coordinating Europe's position on the taxation of digital taxation.
Ursula von der Leyen layed out some of her priorities for the digital economy: "We have to make our single market fit for the digital age, we need to make the most of artificial intelligence and big data, we have to improve on cybersecurity and we have to work hard for our technological sovereignty", she said in her press release earlier today.
Effectively, Margrethe Vestager will combine two of the most important portfolios of the EU, namely: digital and competition. This sends a very strong message to large tech companies on how seriously the EU is taking the regulation of the digital economy. In her previous role as competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager led several investigations against large US tech companies in the field of antitrust. While her scope of competence was previously limited to antitrust, Margrethe Vestager has been keeping a keen eye on data protection. In her new position, Margrethe Vestager will have access to unprecedented resources to enforce EU legislation. It is even discussed that she may want to merge competition and data protection enforcement under a single supervisor, which would require a reform of the GDPR.
Didier Reynders: the new data protection commissioner
Strictly speaking, data protection remains an area of competence under the Directorate-General for Justice, a portfolio which has gone to Belgian ex-cabinet minister, Didier Reynders. While some speculate that Margrethe Vestager may be combining too much power which possibly could constitute a conflict of interest, it remains to be seen in practise how the EU Commission intends to enforce data protection in the coming years. Any reform of the General Data Protection Regulation would technically be led by the Justice Commissioner.
Sylvie Goulard: promoter of the Digital Single Market
Finally, Sylvie Goulard, a former French cabinet minister and close ally of French President Emmanuel Macron, has been nominated Commissioner for the Internal Market, a portfolio which includes the promotion of the Digital Single Market. Sylvie Goulard will be in charge of key areas of the digital market, such as the regulation of artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, blockchain, data algorithms and the development of the 5G network.
In terms of next steps, the new College of Commissioners must now be officially approved by the European Parliament after a series of hearings, which will take place in the coming weeks.