At a hearing by two European Parliament committtees on June 20, Bulgaria’s European Commission nominee Maria Gabriel – nominated for the digital economy and society portfolio – spelt out her priorities for the limited term of office she will serve if confirmed.
Gabriel was nominated on May 10 to succeed Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva, whose resignation from the European Commission took effect at the end of 2016.
A member of the European Parliament for the past eight years, the 38-year-old’s nomination to the Commission is expected to be voted on by MEPs in a plenary session in July. The current European Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, is to remain in office until 2019.
She told MEPs, at the joint sitting of the European Parliament’s industry, research and energy committee and the culture and education committee, that because her term in office would be short, she would focus on priority goals.
These included cyber security, personal data protection and copyright protection, while a further priority would be implementation of directives adopted so far.
“I hope today to hold a constructive debate on how together we can give even greater impetus to the Digital Single Market for a competitive and inclusive Europe, for real benefits for European citizens, for common unifying causes,” Gabriel said at the start of the three-hour hearing, which was conducted in a largely calm and polite atmosphere.
On the issue of rising international call prices after the abolition of additional roaming charges, Gabriel called for the introduction of a universal service to ensure that consumers have a choice. In her view, this will put pressure on mobile operators to provide lower prices for all citizens, as well as some alternative ways of communicating.
Questioned on Europe lagging behind the US in technology, and whether she would work to create a European internet search engine, Gabriel said that her efforts would not be directed at this but rather to the establishment of a favourable environment in which citizens and small businesses could develop.
Regarding copyright protection and the fight against piracy, Gabriel said that there was a possibility of introducing shared responsibility so that platforms where copyright works are illegally shared would be held responsible.
She said that she would work to create the opportunity for artists to receive some money from distributing their works on these platforms and to have them consulted before their works are distributed.
Gabriel also answered questions about data traffic. She emphasised that she was opposed to localisation of data. She said that there is no doubt about the issue of security, but boundaries should not be created where physical boundaries no longer exist.
Gabriel, who addressed the hearing in French, Bulgarian and English, underlined in concluding remarks to MEPs her willingness to work in co-operation and with transparency.
She did not miss the chance for a shout-out to a school in the Bulgarian town of Haskovo, that she said she had been supporting for the past six years. Citing the example of the school, she said that she wanted to see digital graphics and digital technologies find their way in Europe. She wanted people to be proud of the children at the school, “Bulgaria and Europe should be proud of them”.
In the course of a generally cordial hearing, a number of MEPs who have known her as a colleague paid tribute to her track record as a member of the European Parliament. Informal expectations are that her nomination will be backed by the two largest – centre-right and socialist – groups in the European Parliament.
The two European Parliament committees are expected to decide on June 21 on their stance on Gabriel’s nomination.