Europe has voted – at least a minority of about 43 per cent of 400 million eligible voters did. Subtracting disappointed voters that wanted to state against established parties or the EU, the real turnout drops immediately. But the calculation is not that easy. Especially anti-EU and right-wing parties caused discussions about Europe retiring from inclusion in the aftermath of the elections. As a matter of fact, the results in France and UK, where the right-wing Front National and the Eurosceptic Ukip succeeded as strongest parties, show a paradox regarding European policy-making. Parties that oppose EU integration utilize Europe’s democratic desiderate as a forum for their arguments. Despite electoral success, their influence on European policies nevertheless will remain small – either due to the incapability of forming a fraction or the shortage in seats. However, the particular national impacts will be stronger, which is to be observed just now regarding the UK Tories and the French Socialists and Conservatives.
It’s all about the Commissioner
But what do these elections mean in the matters of a digital Europe? Is there already an observable tendency for future policies concerning the net policy? The significance of European ICT and Internet policies within the upcoming legislative period will crucially depend on the constitution of the European Commission. While Neelie Kroes might not run again for Commissioner, her successor will be evaluated by two parameters: nationality and personality. Correspondingly, a person from a digital early adopter member state with relevant competences in this field would be a substantial commitment to both the Digital Single Market and the Digital Agenda for Europe. A candidate from Sweden, the country that pursues its own ambitious Digital Agenda and established the highest broadband distribution in Europe, would be as reasonable as a candidate from Estonia, which enforces an extensive e-government approach. Even though the Digital Agenda for Europe comes along with multidisciplinary prestige, Sweden might not relinquish its young Commissioner for Home Affairs. Another potential then would be the Netherlands, which delegated Neelie Kroes to this position to date. All three countries would potentially send a Commissioner from a liberal political party.
Furthermore, the organisation of the Department DG Connect will play a crucial role, while it is probable that topics will rather accrue than drain. The continuation of the Digital Agenda for Europe, which concludes in 2020, will also be a mission that has to be accomplished by the end of the upcoming legislative period. Being a cross section policy field DG Connect respectively its precursor DG InfSo always affected the Departments of Mobility and Transport, Environment, Climate Action, Energy, etc., which will be prospectively amplified due to the foreseen ICT potentials. Thus, the future Commissioner’s vision as well as its dealing with topics like net neutrality, access infrastructure and ICT innovation will frame Europe’s way as digital pioneer on a connected continent.
Continuity in spite of change – data protection, data preservation and net neutrality are still on the table
The European Parliament will have to take its position on the cleavage between freedom and security. In these matters, the question about the relation between the EP and the European Commission to be elected arises. Nominating a third candidate the European Council would face a European Parliament that falls back into the role of an antagonist to the Commission and the Council. The nomination of the Parliament’s preferred candidate Juncker would lead to a not yet clarified relationship within the political system of the EU. On the issue side the well-known net policies will stay relevant. Data protection, data preservation, net neutrality, and copyright are still on the table and will frame the upcoming legislation. Nevertheless, the election alone will not have an effect on the established parties’ opinions. Even euroscepticists and right-wing parties won’t be able to make a crucial change. Also the European Pirates’ perspective will stay marginalised since they could not seize their potential in the widely opened window of opportunity caused by the NSA affair. Since there are no remarkable blocks, coalitions within the European Parliament will continuously be ad hoc or formed by a grand coalition of EPP and PAS.
Nevertheless, the European Parliament had already functioned as a citizens’ advocate (see the denial of the ACTA agreement). Further developments will depend on the relation-to-be between Parliament and Commission, the future Commissioner’s vision for a digital Europe and the Parliament’s support for the potentially continuing DG Connect. First results will be visible right after the consolidation of the European Parliament and the negotiations about the composition of the European Commission.
Europe has voted; but the results firstly affect national politics though.