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21st Jan 2019

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Leaked EU digital progress report reveals hurried changes

  • EU commissioner Ansip (l) showing his digital skills to colleague commissioners Vella and Canete (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission revealed some of the last-minute changes it made to its own assessment of its digital single market strategy, by publishing a draft document instead of the final version on Wednesday (10 May).

While EU commissioner Andrus Ansip was presenting the “mid-term review of the digital single market strategy” in the commission's press room in Brussels, the final report was supposed to be made public on the website of the commission, which is the EU's executive body.

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  • The commission published, probably accidentally, a word processing document showing changes to a progress report about the digital single market strategy

Instead, the commission's press release linked to a word processor document, which showed a draft version, including changes made by two commission officials.

The document is a progress report of the EU's strategy to remove digital barriers and to stimulate the European digital economy.

The digital single market file is a key priority of president Jean-Claude Juncker's administration, which is halfway through its five-year term. Wednesday's paper summarised what the commission has done.

It has made several legislative proposals that are now in the hands of two other EU institutions, the European Parliament and the Council of EU - the latter of which represents national governments - before they can become law.

The mid-term review is as much taking stock as it is a political tool to put pressure on the other EU institutions, to speed up their legislative work.

"Only the determined commitment of all will allow the EU to make a functional Digital Single Market a reality," the report said.

As with all EU commission documents, it was written by a multitude of civil servants and officials.

Most word processor programmes allow its users to make so-called "track changes", so that recent alterations to the document can be identified.

In this case it was revealed that, on 4 May, a cabinet member of Ansip and a policy coordinator at Jean-Claude Juncker's secretariat-general made substantial last-minute changes.

Some were linguistic, such as asking for the commission's digital proposals to be “rapidly” adopted by member states and the EU parliament, instead of “swiftly”.

Other changes were more substantive.

The final version still stressed that more investments are needed to make sure that EU citizens have good internet connections. But the following sentence was fully removed: “It should also be noted that connectivity by satellite technologies should be promoted, especially in remote areas.”

There were also several changes in the section on tackling hate speech online, and what role online platforms such as Facebook should play.

According to Julia Reda, a German left-wing MEP, the changes point towards endorsement of censorship filters.

In the final text, the commission said it would focus “on the mechanisms and technical solutions for removal of illegal content”. The phrase “technical solutions” had been added just last week.

“Removal of illegal content can only be done in two ways,” Reda, a member of the German Pirate Party, told EUobserver in an e-mail. “Either a person is checking the content, or it is taken down by an automatic filter. 'Technical solutions' therefore clearly refers to filters.”

The text also removed a phrase that said the EU's response to illegal content would be put under a single “framework”, which was already a watering down of an earlier draft dated April, published by Politico.

That earlier draft said the commission would consider whether to “come forward with initiatives in the form of legislative and/or non-legislative instruments” before the end of the year.

The commission did not comment on questions from EUobserver, asking for the reasoning behind the changes.

"The Communication adopted by the College of Commissioners is the one available here," wrote spokeswoman Nathalie Vandystadt in an e-mail that included a link to the press release.

That press release now links to the final version, which can be read here. MEP Reda has published a copy of the leaked draft.

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