December 2019 – The new European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen took office on 2 December. Among the challenges it faces is the daunting task of restoring Europe's competitiveness and economic prowess by completing the full integration of its internal market and strengthening Europe's industrial and technology base.

How Thierry Breton, the new commissioner in charge of shaping and implementing the European Union's industrial policy and market regulations, plans to attain those objectives is summarised in the overview below. For further insights on the von der Leyen Commission's economic and regulatory priorities, please refer to our client briefing on the industrial, digital and competition agendas of Executive Vice President for Europe Fit for the Digital Age Margret Vestager (available here).

1. The European Single Market at Full Speed

Commissioner Breton has explained his intention to push through with the completion of a fully integrated internal marketplace within the European Union by:

  • Facilitating further the cross-border provision of services within the EU: As part of his portfolio, Commissioner Breton will have the powers for, and indeed intends to take actions toward, the full implementation and further enforcement of the EU Services Directive (including enhanced recognition of professional qualifications) and the new Digital Services Act, including by bringing up actions against Member States and fostering and encouraging coordination between the Member States' national authorities with responsibilities in this area. The European Commission would strive to expand the recognition of professional qualifications to a wider range of occupations. In particular, Commissioner Breton would like to encourage the flow of IT/technology-based services, including from Central and Eastern Europe, across the European Union.
  • Creating a more favourable regulatory environment for European SMEs and start-ups by regulating new forms of work to defend European SMEs and start-ups from unfair competition coming from US and Chinese tech giants; facilitating more access to capital; and ensuring better protection of know-how and innovation/inventions.
  • Adopting a new Digital Services Act: One of the priorities of the European Commission is expected to be the adoption of a new Digital Services Act to upgrade the existing rules for online platforms, services and products.
  • Continuing efforts to strengthen the implementation and enforcement of European internal market regulations, especially those concerning the protection of workers and social protection.

2. Technological Sovereignty

Commissioner Breton has extensive experience in the technology sector, as he was until recently the CEO of the leading French IT services provider, Atos, and is a former Chairman and CEO of France Telecom. This background gives him insight into the challenges facing European technology businesses and what the sector needs in order to catch up with global competition. On Commissioner Breton's priority list are, most notably:

  • Better connectivity across Europe: Commissioner Breton is expected to promote private investments while reducing the cost of rolling-out high capacity networks, including by possible revision of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive.
  • Deployment of 5G by the end of 2020: Mr Breton has pledged to work with the Member States towards allowing the use of the frequency bands required for the deployment of 5G wireless networks by end-2020 in accordance with the deadline set in the 5G Action Plan adopted by the European Commission in 2016.
  • European quantum computing infrastructure: Mr Breton will support, by 2030, the development and deployment in the EU of a certified secure end-to-end quantum communication infrastructure based on the concept of quantum key distribution. Financial support will be provided to public-private partnerships engaged in the development and deployment of such infrastructure, which integrates satellite and terrestrial technologies.

3. Audio-visual Services

Commissioner Breton's key priorities in this area include:

  • Convergence between content and distribution: Commissioner Breton intends to proceed with the implementation and enforcement of the amended Audio-visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) as a way to promote the delivery of more and better European audio-visual content online. In particular, actions would be taken to ensure that European audio-visual content is present on the various media platforms, including video sharing platforms, with a 30 per cent quota (Mr Breton is in favour of measuring this quota by minute of content, not by number of titles available). EU financial programmes and instruments will be used to support the European media and audio-visual sectors to that effect.
  • Liability obligations for video sharing platforms also under the E-Commerce Directive: The E-Commerce Directive will be amended to incorporate a liability framework for video-sharing platforms akin to those obligations under the recently revised Copyright Directive.
  • Combat of illegal content online: As part of the overall regulatory framework of digital services under the new Digital Services Act, the European Commission will pursue efforts to further counter illegal online content (including possibly defamatory, fake news, or pirated).

4. Cyber Security

Robust information security underpins the proper functioning of a digitalised European economy. Policy initiatives by the European Commission in this are expected to include:

  • A new Joint Cybersecurity Unit, which will ensure reinforced cooperation between the Member States, as well as a mutual-assistance mechanism, in cases of large-scale cyber incidents at the EU level. This mechanism would also support better enforcement and coordinated defence efforts at Member State and EU level.
  • A review of the Network Information Security Directive at the latest by spring 2021.
  • Mandatory cyber security certification of critical information and communication technology infrastructure, services and products, such as 5G or cloud computing.

5. Transition to European Green Economy

As part of the European Union's agenda to mitigate the impacts of climate change, Commissioner Breton will:

  • Make transitional funds available for phasing out coal mining and coal-based energy generation, and for retaining/creating employment in the affected regions;
  • Introduce a European carbon tax in order to ensure a level playing field between European businesses striving for low- or zero-carbon production and non-EU-based businesses manufacturing under less stringent carbon emission standards;
  • Further diversification of energy supplies by adding more green energy (energy from renewable sources) into the energy mix, while taking a cautious approach to sourcing more gas supplies from outside the EU (e.g. Russia).

6. Human-Centric Artificial Intelligence

In the area of AI, Commissioner Breton can be expected to advocate in favour of:

  • Human-centric AI as the global standard for trustworthy technology: Commissioner Breton would push through a regulatory framework for the deployment of AI that is premised on human oversight and robust human involvement in ultimate decision-making.
  • Common European data spaces: Commissioner Breton intends to sponsor the adoption of additional regulations and to promote the emergence of "common European data spaces" in order to ensure the availability, free flow and re-use of data for industrial and innovation purposes in different sectors.

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