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16th Jun 2019

Bulgarian commissioner fields easy questions at MEP hearing

  • Mariya Gabriel promised “dialogue and compromise”. (Photo: European Parliament)

Bulgaria's candidate for the European Commission sailed through a hearing at the European Parliament on Tuesday (20 June) as MEPs accepted her broad statements and promises without much criticism.

Members of the European Parliament's industry and culture committees held a common meeting to see if Mariya Gabriel, an outgoing MEP herself, is fit to become the EU commissioner for digital economy and society.

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  • “A two-year mandate is short," said Gabriel. (Photo: European Parliament)

The 2.5-hour hearing saw Gabriel promising to involve the EU parliament, to aim for “dialogue and compromise” and to “complete the digital single market”.

But she kept her statements very general and uncontroversial.

Czech MEP Evzen Tosenovsky, from the mildly eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists group, wanted to know if Gabriel still supported the commission proposal to transform the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) into a fully fledged EU agency.

The plan is controversial and seems to lack a majority, both in the parliament and among member states, needed before the plan can become law.

Gabriel did not say whether she still wants BEREC to become an agency, instead saying that she would seek a “common fundament that will allow us to move forward”.

“I'm very aware of the need to have further discussion because today there are different positions between the institutions,” she said.

When asked how artists should be paid for their work, now that many consumers enjoy their creations through online platforms, Gabriel said she didn't want a “situation where only the platforms gain”, but didn't outline concretely how she would prevent that.

The Bulgarian also said that there should be “free movement of data” in the EU, but said she could not yet say how the commission wants to achieve that, because it is still working on an impact assessment.

“I can reassure you that the impact study is in the pipeline … I can't say more than that,” she said.

She said the phenomenon of fake news was nothing new, and that new technologies should be approached with "enthusiasm and optimism".

Gabriel also spoke out against "over-regulation" of online platforms like Uber and Airbnb.

"I think that within the dialogue with the platforms there is more space for voluntary measures," she said.

MEPs did not press hard and gave her a broad applause when she spoke up on European values and gender equality.

The hearing was effectively one among peers, as Gabriel has been a member of the EU parliament herself since 2009. She will have to leave the parliament when she formally becomes commissioner.

The Bulgarian is a member of the largest political group, the centre-right European People's Party, which holds 216 of 751 seats.

She needs to be approved by a majority of MEPs at a plenary vote, expected for the Strasbourg session in two weeks.

Gabriel will then become responsible for the digital economy and society portfolio, which had been left behind when German EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger was put in charge of the budget and human resources file.

Oettinger took over on budget from Kristalina Georgieva, Bulgaria's commissioner who left last year to join the World Bank.

The 38-year-old Gabriel will have a mandate until Jean-Claude Juncker's team leaves office in 2019.

“A two-year mandate is short,” admitted Gabriel, adding that prioritising was important.

But although Gabriel said her priority would be “full implementation” of legislative proposals that the commission has already tabled in the past 2.5 years, she said she would also propose some new plans.

Left-wing MEP Julia Reda, who in the past had been very critical of Gabriel's predecessor, Guenther Oettinger, was also mild.

“I understand you are careful,” she said, adding that no one is expecting Gabriel to present any U-turns on commission policies that have been put in place by predecessors.

Reda, the only member of the Pirate Party, a pan-European group focussed on digital rights, tweeted afterwards that Gabriel “has learned quickly about digital topics, but is giving little indication of what she thinks”.

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