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EU Commission digital policy scorecard: what’s been achieved?

Margrethe Vestager (Commissioner for Competition), Sam Altman (CEO of OpenAI), Thierry Breton (Commissioner for Internal Market), Elon Musk (CEO of X) and Ursula von der Leyen
Margrethe Vestager (Commissioner for Competition), Sam Altman (CEO of OpenAI), Thierry Breton (Commissioner for Internal Market), Elon Musk (CEO of X) and Ursula von der Leyen Copyright AP Photo (edited)
Copyright AP Photo (edited)
By Cynthia KroetRomane Armangau
Published on Updated
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When Ursula von der Leyen began as European Commission president in December 2019, an initiative to propose artificial intelligence legislation was included within a pledge to deliver policies within the first 100 days of her mandate.

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Much more followed on the digital front in the wake of those first 100 days. Now as Von der Leyen’s – possibly first – term comes to an end, we assess the state of technology files proposed over the past five years.

Digital policy priorities

Of the 114 tech files announced during the mandate, some 51 were agreed on, five were withdrawn and four were put on ice, according to data collated by the European Parliament. 

This does not represent the entirety of digital files introduced by the Commission, but they fall under the “A Europe fit for the digital age” package: one of the pillars of the political priorities of this Von der Leyen administration.

Tabled: proposal received by the European Parliament; blocked: no activities on the file for more than 9 months; close to adoption: trilogues ended.

According to data from the Parliament, digital priorities had the lowest rate of adoption for proposed texts, with only 44% being approved. By comparison, 45% of the 168 legislative files under the Green Deal were adopted, and 49% of the 143 economic proposals were accepted. 

Commission Executive Vice-President for Digital Margarethe Vestager told Euronews that the past five years “have profoundly changed the game when it comes to how we approach tech.”

“For years, platforms were left free to act pretty much as they wished. It brought great opportunities, but also great risks. Conversations fragmented into small private places without space for contradiction, fake news spreading, deep fakes causing huge damage to young people’s mental health. [...] with our digital regulation we have given back to people part of the control they lost to platforms.”

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Which tech files were closed on during the mandate?

A lot of progress was made on the AI Act: the Commission first set up expert groups to work on ethical guidelines which ultimately led to the adoption of the AI Act. The world’s first rulebook to curb machine learning technologies was approved by the Parliament in March, after hours of tough negotiations. The text will enter into force in August.

More landmark rules aimed to shake up Big Tech were agreed in 2022: the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act aim to hold the largest online platforms accountable for their content and to make the digital sector fairer and more competitive. The Commission already started numerous probes under the DSA into tech platforms’ compliance with the rules. These include child protection probes into TikTok and Meta, as well as disinformation investigations into X and Facebook. 

“It wasn't easy, because there was a lot of lobbying, but we held our ground and managed to enforce our rules, where the United States is struggling,” Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton told Euronews, adding that he is convinced that “the right level to regulate and be effective against the digital giants is Europe.”

Lawmaker Stéphanie Yon-Courtin (France/Renew) told Euronews that to ensure the success of this mandate, “it is now crucial to implement all these texts and coordinate them to assess their effectiveness.”

“The most complex work is just beginning. One of the main constraints is the limited resources, which are not adequate to meet the challenges. Consequently, the European Commission may have to prioritise its work, giving precedence to some issues over others,” she added.

With the DSA in place, the EU Executive had more tools to force companies to take their responsibility to take down disinformation. Despite the introduction of additional rules affecting transparency and targeting of political advertising, fact-checking organisations were sceptical of their ability to impact in time for EU elections last June.

Consumer lobby group BEUC told Euronews that it was satisfied by Commission actions to protect consumers over the past five years through regulating AI, online marketplaces and connected products. However, they would like to see further development. “Clear priorities for BEUC are related to the ongoing digital fairness fitness check of consumer law and improving child protection online. This [next] mandate should also focus on ensuring regulators enforce EU laws swiftly and with the right resources in place,” said Maryant Fernandez Perez, the head of digital policy at BEUC.

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What will come up under the next mandate?

One of the dossiers that will land on the plate of the incoming commission is the Digital Networks Act, a planned overhaul of telecom rules proposed by Breton to ensure the roll-out of high-capacity networks. When first presented in 2023, the issue garnered much heated debate between the EU telecom sector on one side and the streaming services on the other.

“With the von der Leyen Commission the European connectivity ecosystem was put on top of the political agenda and recognised as strategic for competitiveness and resilience," according to Alessandro Gropelli, Deputy Director General at the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO). "It is now crucial to develop concrete industrial policies to back a stronger connectivity sector: timing is of essence if we are to deliver better services to EU citizens," he added.

A leaked rulebook for the Commission’s digital unit, seen by Euronews, suggests work will be coming up in the area of cybersecurity, and on copyright, liability and the workplace under the AI Act. 

“The challenge for the next term will be to continue enforcing our rules as strongly as possible. We must be impervious to lobbying attempts and stand firm. We have demonstrated this collectively over the past five years, and I am confident for the next five,” Breton said.

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Yon-Courtin said the focus should now be on implementation. “The DSA and DMA are two foundational texts that must be well implemented before considering any revisions. The challenges are immense and rapidly evolving, as we see with the development of generative AI, but we now have the tools to respond in a timely manner.” She added that more needs to be done on cloud computing.

In the next few weeks, it will be clear how much continuity in senior positions within the Parliament and Commission will enable that digital enforcement to continue.

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