Countdown to EU Elections: What Will EU Elections Mean for Digital Companies?

Posted on 12th April 2019

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The European Parliament is currently in its last few days of business as usual — when MEPs leave the Strasbourg plenary session on 18 April, it’ll be the end of almost all Parliamentary activity and focus will shift to the European elections taking place on 23-26 May. While this time is usually quieter, companies should use it to plan for the next five years of European policy-making. Our EU elections series aims to help them do just that.

With key figures likely to shift and new, far-reaching digital priorities for the 2019–2024 Parliament, companies should use this time to identify which Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are likely to be digital champions for the next five years.

Who will be (re)elected?

As most party lists have already been published, we can be sure that a number of the key digital MEPs will almost certainly be elected again. Importantly, they’ll be able to retain their positions as Rapporteurs or Shadow Rapporteurs. The European Parliament prefers continuity of stewardship for legislative files, but the allocation of files must reflect the post-election size of the political groups, meaning that some influential MEPs could lose key positions.

For example, Birgit Sippel (S&D, Germany), who is the Rapporteur on both the controversial ePrivacy Regulation and the e-Evidence file, is set for re-election, but a diminished S&D could usher in change of who is tasked with guiding these key files through political negotiations. Another key German MEP and Rapporteur for the completed Cybersecurity Act file, Angelika Niebler from the EPP group, is also set to return to Parliament and no doubt will continue working on issues of interest to technology stakeholders.

Civil liberties champion Sophie in ‘t Veld (ALDE, Netherlands) who has turned her attention increasingly to digital files, is number one on her party list and is set to return for a third Parliamentary term. Key interlocutor for cloud and digitisation initiatives Eva Maydell from Bulgaria (EPP) has been confirmed as an official candidate and has a high chance of returning to her seat. Stakeholders who have already forged relationships with these MEPs will welcome the continuity.

At the same time, they’ll need to consider how to engage with incoming MEPs. Of the new challengers, several come from current Commissioners making contingency plans should they not be reappointed.  Digital Single Market Commissioner Andrus Ansip, if not reappointed as Estonia’s Commissioner, will be a key MEP and a sought-after partner for technology companies, consumer organisations and privacy activists alike. Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel is also leading her party’s list in Bulgaria and has indicated she would like to continue her work on countering fake news and leading on other digital files for the next five years, whether as MEP or Commissioner.

Rounding off the list is Belgian Neelie Kroes, a former Digital Commissioner in the Barroso Cabinet best known for pushing for the end of roaming charges. While Kroes is Dutch, this time she is running with the Belgian Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Open VLD). Although unlikely to be elected, Kroes’ candidacy should bring an interesting dynamic to the digital policy agenda of the Belgian liberals.

Possibly the most interesting candidate and top of the party list for the German Social Democrats is Katarina Barley, currently Justice Minister and outspoken critic of the Copyright Directive. She will be a force to be reckoned with as an MEP, putting the spotlight on tech companies and calling for greater scrutiny of privacy and data protection measures. Barley has already made her mark in Germany, working with tech and telecoms companies on a Corporate Digital Responsibility Initiative, and is one of the most important new candidates for digital companies to watch.

Implications for digital companies

Digital policy in the European Parliament is set to change with an influx of new MEPs and changes in the balance of power of political groups. The main centre-right EPP group and particularly the largest centre-left S&D group are projected to lose seats to far-right and far-left populist forces, raising the prospect of the two largest groups being unable to put together a combined majority.

The liberal ALDE group hopes to act as a “kingmaker”, but the UK’s recent extension of EU membership and potential participation in Parliament elections has added a further layer of uncertainty. The results are likely to be highly volatile with seats up for grabs between the S&D group, far-right groupings, and ALDE, depending on which parties gain from the highly polarised and Brexit-focused election.  Fragmentation leaves a coalition between the EPP, the S&D, and the expected ALDE-Europe En Marche alliance the safest bet for a majority, particularly when the UK’s eventual departure removes their MEPs and some seats are reallocated amongst the remaining member states.

Opposing them will be a new populist dynamic that is likely to bring stronger elements of protectionism into the Parliament’s narrative. One manifestation will be the already-evident emphasis on a “Europe-first” approach in response to other global tech powers, which has been growing over the last five years. Another key implication of strengthened populist parties is likely to be stronger requirements for the tech industry across the board, with increased privacy and data protection obligations, and greater emphasis on competition and international trade rules.

Time of transition

Election results in most EU countries will be announced on the night of 26 May. The next few weeks will see new MEPs negotiating key positions in the political groups and groups dividing up roles in Committees. Many of the digital and tech companies active in Brussels will already be planning their strategy for engagement and reaching out to new MEPs for meetings as soon as July; certainly by the beginning of September.

The beginning of a legislative term is full of challenges as key relationships need to be forged, but it also presents opportunities to engage and provide input into how the European Parliament will address digital policies for the next five years.

Author: Simona Lipstaite, Public Policy Manager, Access Partnership

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