Ursula von der Leyen was elected on Tuesday as the new President of the European Commission by 383 Members of the new European Parliament. She is the first woman to hold the office. A centre-right politician and close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she was until this week Germany’s defense minister.
Her term will officially commence on the 1st of November, after the current Commission under the presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker steps down.
So what does her election mean for EU tech policy over the next five years?
We did get a glimpse of her priorities in her Tuesday morning speech addressing the plenary of the European Parliament ahead of her confirmation vote.
Her agenda includes joint standards for 5G and new tech, where she mentions an array of technologies, from blockchain, high performance computing, quantum computing, algorithms and tools for data sharing and data usage.
Free flow of data remains – thankfully – a priority. But so are security, safety, privacy and ethics.
In this context, she announced legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence in the first 100 days in office. A specially designated body, the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on AI, has already started work in this area by producing draft Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI and most recently, a set of policy and investment recommendations addressed to EU Institutions and Member States. techUK will be participating in the piloting stage of the Ethics Guidelines to help ensure the revised Guidelines are a useful and practical tool for industry.
Remember the joys of the eCommerce Directive? As we expected, that’s back. The new Digital Services Act will aim at looking again into liability and safety rules for all kinds of digital platforms, services and products. That was and remains a priority of the Commission and will be on the table very early in the new term.
In cyber, she wants a joint Cyber Unit, to speed up information sharing.
And in skills and education, she’s committed to a European Education Area by 2025, that will enable learners to move more easily between education systems and that will move the focus to lifelong learning. An update to the Digital Education Action Plan is also expected in the current term. And Erasmus+ not only has her support, but she’s keen on tripling its budget in the next long-term EU budget.
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve heard it all before. One plan of the outgoing Secretary General of the European Commission, Martin Selmayr, was to create a handbook for the new Commission with suggestions of policy priorities for the next five years. All of the above are reminiscent of DG Connect’s – the department in charge of tech policy in the European Commission – paper.
What next? It’s all quieting down in the EU Bubble over the next month. Member States have until August 26th to provide nominations for Commissioners. We already have 15 of those nominations, only 5 of which are women. Key for tech policy will be the portfolio of Margrete Vestager, the current EU Commissioner for competition. Expect lengthy negotiations over who gets what and how to reach gender parity. Not too lengthy though, as November 1st is just around the corner.