The main reason why, back in 2013, Neelie Kroes felt compelled to put forward a set of EU-wide rules on net neutrality is that she could predict a wave of domestic regulations was bound to materialize sooner or later: a nightmarish scenario for a European commissioner who dreamed of building a telecom single market where “telcos can think European to compete globally”.
Alas, the kind of national fragmentation Mrs. Kroes ardently sought to prevent is about to be blessed by the EU law. Under a hard-fought settlement reached by the European Parliament and the Council in June, key elements of the first-ever EU bill on net neutrality will be adjudicated in the member states and their interpretation left up to national regulators. For example, domestic regulators will determine what is and what is not a “specialised service”.
This epilogue, which contradicts the original goal of the bill as it was conceived by Neelie Kroesand, has very little benefits for consumers and comes with a higher price. It may underdime the legal certainty and regulatory predictability (at EU level) that the telecoms sector badly needs to attract more investment. The truth is that a regime of “European net neutralities” is nearly as bad as not having a legislation at all.
Most Brussels’ insiders didn’t blink an eye when in mid-April draft copies of the upcoming Digital Single Market strategy began circulating among tech lobbyists eventually landing on the desk of a few reporters. Such leaks are commonplace in the “EU bubble”, even more so when it comes to digital-related legislative initiatives.
In fact, during the former European Commission’s term not a single bill drafted under the auspices of the then EU digital chief Neelie Kroes escaped the fate of being leaked weeks (and at times even months) before its official presentation. No wonder that the EU community abounds with stories of interns or civil servants who were punished after being caught “smuggling” internal documents out the Commission.
The DSM leak is thus hardly a surprise. But it calls into question the Commission ability or willingness to protect the confidentiality of its work. Worse: several of these leaks are said to be orchestrated on purpose by commissioners’ cabinets.
True, the impact of this practice should not be overestimated. Yet it highlights a clear deontological problem within the ranks of the Commission that should be addressed as soon as possible.