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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, 19 July 2019 Related reading: Tech companies voice opposition to encryption backdoors at Senate hearing

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Greetings from Brussels!

It has been an important and groundbreaking week here in Brussels. On Tuesday, the European Parliament elected Ursula von der Leyen — the current German defense minister — as the first female European Commission President.

Winning with a slender majority (incidentally, this is not unusual in the EU), von der Leyen is now set to take office 1 Nov. 2019 for a five-year term, having resigned her ministerial post Wednesday. An important phase now begins for European institutions. The European Parliament will have to prepare for the hearings of the commissioners-designate, which will be very thorough on the part of the Parliament. From a procedural perspective, the commission president-elect will now send official letters to the member states' heads of state or government inviting them to propose their candidates for members of the commission. Hearings of the nominees in Parliament’s competent committees are scheduled to take place from 30 Sept. to 8 Oct. The full college of commissioners then needs to be elected by Parliament, most likely in its 21 to 24 Oct. session. While this is the projected timeline in the lead up to the new commission formally taking office 1 Nov., this may well be delayed, as the Parliament will seek to assert its authority during the hearings by inviting some candidates for a supplementary hearing and/or rejecting one or more candidates.

The president-elect is looking for a gender-balanced commission, which I think is highly welcome, quickly calling on heads of state to send her “good female candidates.” I have been told from reliable sources that 12 member states have already confirmed their nominations consisting of 7 men and 5 women. For the remaining member states, most of the names in circulation are men. Of note, Margrethe Vestager, the sitting competition commissioner, has been nominated by Denmark to remain in Brussels and is being proposed to become vice president.

The president-elect will also start developing her legislative priorities as of now. In short, von der Leyen is a strong believer in multilateralism and is pro-EU. On current issues, von der Leyen has already stated she would be open to Brexit being delayed further “for a good reason” although she insisted the withdrawal agreement would not be renegotiated.

Her vision ahead for the EU as presented to Parliament included a more rigorous approach to the issue of climate change, including the proposal of a new European climate law, saying a “healthy planet is our greatest challenge and responsibility.” She also stressed that the EU must establish an economy that serves the people and that for this to happen, “everyone needs to share the burden.” This is clearly aimed at U.S. tech giants that conduct business in Europe. In this regard, she wants “fair taxes” paid and a reduction in member state law exploitation by companies to pay minimal taxes. Depending on how progressive the new commission is on policy, this could further put strain on EU-U.S. relations already at odds over differences in trade, competition and political policy. Finally, and worth a mention, von der Leyen declared her commitment to the rule of law as a European value, announcing that she intends to establish an EU-wide monitoring mechanism in parallel to existing measures.

Some fairly ambitious statements. Time will tell whether she has the support of member states in the long run.

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