European telecoms regulation

#OMGoettinger! Good or bad news for the Digital Agenda?


Today Commissioner Jean Claude Junker announced the structure of the new European Commission, that will manage and execute European policies in the next 5 years term (starting from November 2014). The new structure can be found here.

As regards the Digital Agenda, the portfolio has been assigned to the German candidate Oettinger, who was holding the Energy directorate in the current Commission’s term. The choice of Oettinger is somehow a surprise, although the German press had already whispered this possibility one week ago. In the past days, rumors indicated the UK candidate to get Digital Agenda (together with the Internal Market portfolio), while other informal news indicated Cyprus, Slovenia or Estonia to get the task.

Interestingly, the task of Oettinger, named “Digital Agenda and Society” will be shared with the Estonian VP Andrus Ansip who will be responsible for “Digital Single Market”. For the time being, it is not clear how this shared competence and related coordination will work. Probably, rules of procedure will need to be revised and adapted accordingly, and one could suspect that an important negotiation will take place in the next weeks. In the past, cluster/grouping of commissioners have never been successful, since each commissioner tend to manage his/her portfolio as a own backyard. Thus, it will be up to the President Junker, and mainly to his head of cabinet Selmayr, to make sure that this coordination brings value and results rather than internal guerrillas and inertia. Whatever the result will be, it is clear that this kind of organization reinforce the role of the President in terms of coordination and influence over all European policies.

Apparently, the offices of DG Connect have escaped the dismantlement which had been suggested by many rumors in the last weeks. It is clear that the German candidate did not accept a reduction of offices and competences. By contrast, DG Connect has been reinforced by absorbing various units of DG market, the most relevant in the matter of copyright. On the other side, since the current focus of DG Connect is upon the establishment of a Digital Single Market, some adaptations may be expected in order to facilitate the coordination with the offices of Ansip, who in fact does not own a real portfolio/organization (like the other VP of the new Commission, he will be supported by the Secretariat). More details on the shift of competences between Directorates General are available here.

One could now wonder whether the appointment of Oettinger may be a good news for the market, or for some stakeholders in particular. The hashtag #OMgoettinger is already circulating in Twitter. Alternative operators may fear that this commissioner, being German, could be sensitive to the ambitions of national champions and therefore more inclined to the views of Deutsche Telekom; on the other side, incumbent operators may be suspicious about somebody coming from the energy sector, where structural separation occurred effectively.

Thus, it is difficult to anticipate evaluations about the expected views of a new commissioner simply on the basis of his/her past record. In 2006 Viviane Reding was not expected to shake the sector, but then she did it, with various striking proposals in the area of international roaming, structural separation, mobile termination, which created conflicts with dominant operators.  In 2010 her successor, Neelie Kroes, was expected to crash small and alternative operators for the benefit of incumbents. By contrast, in the first 2 years mandate she did not take any relevant action in this respect. Then, when in July 2012 she launched a contested reform welcomed only by incumbents, this change appeared driven mostly by accidental and financial circumstances, rather than by a coherent industrial view. 



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