By Guest author

Between 29 September and 7 October the hearings of the Commissioners-designate in the European Parliament took place. This is a brief summary of the six hearings when the Commissioners-designate were answering to the MEPs’ questions regarding digital rights, privacy issues and trade agreements.

Guenther Oettinger (Germany) is the nominee for the Digital Economy and Society portfolio. Cecilia Malmström (Sweden) has been nominated as a Commissioner-designate for trade. Dimitris Avramopoulos (Greece) is the Commissioner-designate for the Migration and Home affairs. Věra Jourová (Czech republic) is nominated for the position of a Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality. Andrus Ansip (Estonia) has been assigned the portfolio of vice-president for digital single market. Frans Timmermans (Netherlands) will be the First Vice-President and Commissioner in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Guenther Oettinger was asked about the steps needed to successfully deal with cloud computing and big data. He answered that we need EU legislation for cloud computing. On the issue of the “right to be forgotten”, the data retention and data processing, he stuck rigidly to existing Commission policy, saying that data should not be permanently stored, people should have a right to access the data stored about them, and that the “right to be forgotten” represented an additional protection. He considers the “right to be forgotten” as a fundamental right. His headlined-grabbing moment was calling the celebrities who had used cloud computing for their sensitive data “dumb”, and praising cloud computing for its financial and environmental efficiency and its ability to offer “tailored products and services to consumers“.

Cecilia Malmström indicated in her opening speech that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is the most important challenge ahead. Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in TTIP was extensively debated in the hearing, Ms Malmström answered that both negotiating sides were striving for an ambitious agreement including ISDS. In her another reply concerning ISDS she expressed that the ISDS would not be necessarily included in TTIP but that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would fall apart if ISDS was removed. With trademark evasiveness, she was firmly in support of ISDS, but confirmed that she was open to not supporting it in TTIP. Ms Malmström was also asked about her secret discussion with the US government about an unpublished draft of EU’s Data Protection Regulation, due to an e-mail that was published by EDRi-member Access. In her reply, she rejected the authenticity of the “leaked e-mail” (obtained under a US freedom of information request), the authenticity of which she was subsequently forced to publicly recognise.

Dimitris Avramopoulos answered to the European Parliament questionnaire regarding the implementation of the CJEU judgment on Data Retention Directive as followed: “In the current absence of EU legislation obliging Member States to require data retention, Member States can still establish or maintain national data retention legislation in compliance with the so-called e-Privacy Directive (Directive 2002/58/EC) and in accordance with the general principles of Union law, including fundamental rights, as well as their own constitutional principles”. The reference to the e-Privacy Directive is significant, because it means that the Commissioner Delegate is prepared to defend the position that data retention still falls under the EU legal framework. Mr Avramopoulos faced questions from MEPs regarding the validity of Passenger Name Record (PNR) Agreements after the Court’s ruling on Data Retention Directive. He replied that the Court ruling is the prerequisite for all the coming policies. In Europe, however, the new policies are to be adopted which will be valid and should be implemented horizontally.

Věra Jourová stated that among her priorities belong the swift adoption of a modern data protection reform within the first six months of her mandate. Regarding the questions about the “Umbrella agreement” (on law enforcement data exchange) and the Safe Harbor (on general rules for exchange of data) agreements with the USA, she stressed that it is necessary to restore trust between EU and US and that the Safe Harbour agreement must be really safe. She promised to analyse these issues and stated that she is always strongly in favor of the privacy protection and the data protection.

Andrus Ansip is going to focus on data protection, telecoms regulation, cyber-security, maintaining a fair level-playing field for all companies, e-commerce and e-government. He said that Europe doesn’t have a Single Market ready for the digital age, but it is important that we should not regulate everything. He promised to look at the copyright reform, and to reduce barriers to cross-border trade in the Single Market online. He also promised the introduction of eInvoices and eProcurement in the Commission by 2015, as well as eSignatures by the end of his mandate. Regarding the Safe Harbour agreement, Mr Ansip said that the changes need to be implemented. He also went on stating that the national security exception to the Safe Harbour rules is concerning and if there is no satisfying results in negotiations with the US in this regard, then suspension of the agreement might be the option. He also spoke out against geo-blocking of online content.

Frans Timmermans gave a strong commitment to ensuring respect for fundamental rights. Going beyond the position of the very active and ambitious ex-Commissioner for Fundamental Rights.He also promised a mandatory lobbyist register. Whether he will be able to use his stated views on transparency and democracy to help overturn the outgoing Commission’s dreadful record on access to documents remains to be seen.

Written responses to European Parliament questionnaire:

Guenther Oettinger: http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/docs/2014-ep-hearings-reply-oettinger_en.pdf

Cecilia Malmström: http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/docs/2014-ep-hearings-reply-malmstrom_en.pdf

Dimitris Avramopoulos: http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/docs/2014-ep-hearings-reply-avramopoulos_en.pdf

Věra Jourová: http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/docs/2014-ep-hearings-reply-jourova_en.pdf

Andrus Ansip: http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/docs/2014-ep-hearings-reply-ansip_en.pdf

Frans Timmermans: http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/docs/2014-ep-hearings-reply-timmermans_en.pdf

(Contribution by Angela Sobolciakova, EDRi intern)

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