Mariya Gabriel promises to complete digital single market if confirmed as EU commissioner

MEPs quiz former Bulgarian member over suitability for top EU digital post.

Mariya Gabriel | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

23 Jun 2017

Mariya Gabriel, the Bulgarian commissioner-designate for the digital economy and society dossier, has successfully negotiated a nomination hearing in the European Parliament.

In the hearing, she replied to questions from several committees’ members assessing her skills.

The two and a half-hour meeting saw Gabriel promising to involve the EU assembly, to aim for “dialogue and compromise” and to “complete the digital single market”.

But she kept her statements very general and uncontroversial. She was not questioned about the so-called scandal she faces in her native Bulgaria regarding a subsidised apartment.

One MEP said, “This was not surprising given that she has the support of both the EPP and Socialist groups in parliament.”

German Greens MEP Julia Reda, deputy leader of her group, gave her reaction to Gabriel’s appearance.

She said She has learned quickly about digital topics but gave little indication of what she thinks.

The post became vacant, after German commissioner Guenther Oettinger was switched to the budget and human resources file. Oettinger took over that portfolio from Kristalina Georgieva, the former Bulgarian EU commissioner who left last year to join the World Bank.

During the discussion on Tuesday, Gabriel was quizzed by MEPs on several topics, including the digitisation of European industry, possible solutions to cyber-attacks, the future of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), radio spectrum allocation and the different regulatory and fiscal aspects of online platforms.

She was also questioned on what she and the commission planned to do to combat the rise of fake news.

On this, she said, “The commission’s approach prioritises effective, voluntary forms of self-regulation combined with targeted regulatory intervention.

“In addition to the provisions put forward in connection with the revision of the audiovisual media services directive to combat hate speech more effectively, I will propose further measures to promote proactive steps by online platforms and social media.

“Another element of our policy will be to work with the High Representative to enhance our strategic communication to counter disinformation campaigns outside the European Union.”

She told MEPs that the commission had a “number of tools” to counter fake news,including:

Checking content for ‘fake news’: the Commission, she said, is channelling research and innovation funding into developing tools to help operators identify and check content distributed online, including material that is illegal or harmful.

The Commission has also established a “constructive” dialogue with the leading social media operators to monitor progress in resolving the main problems, such as ‘fake news’, by working with press contacts (for example, fact-checking) and/or initiatives aimed at improving media literacy among users.

Dialogue with member states, the aim being to set up a group of experts on social media to identify best practice and discuss solutions, share research findings and help to develop harmonised approaches.

She said, “Our work involves proactive engagement with the main social media platforms, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, and with experts in media literacy from all over Europe.”

Gabriel, formerly an MEP, was nominated by Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The committees' letter of evaluation will be sent to the parliament’s Conference of Committee chairs and subsequently to the Conference of Presidents.

MEPs will vote on whether to approve Gabriel’s nomination during their plenary session in July in Strasbourg.

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