By Sophie Noya and Henriette Tielemans

From September 29 to October 7, 2014, parliamentary Committees of the European Parliament (“EP”) will be holding public confirmation hearings with Commissioners-designates with a view to assessing their skills and qualifications ahead of the EP’s vote on October 22 to approve (or reject) the Council’s appointment of the new Commission.

On October 1, the Committee on Legal Affairs (“JURI”), the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (“LIBE”), the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (“IMCO”) and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (“FEMM”) therefore held a hearing with Věra Jourová, the Czech Commissioner-designate for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.   The answers of the Commissioner designate, some of which are summarized here below, failed to impress the members of the European Parliament who will be subjecting the Commissioner- designate to further questions.  It is therefore at this stage unclear whether Ms Jourova will take up her portfolio later this year.

Key Takeaways

  • Reform of the EU Data Protection Framework: Commissioner-designate Jourová intends to push for adoption of data protection reforms within the first six months of her mandate.  In her response to Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens/EFA-Germany), who questioned this – arguably unrealistic – timeframe, Commissioner-designate Jourová declared that she intended to meet this deadline, although she was aware that there were a number of pending technical issues.  She stressed that the current legislation was obsolete and could not continue to be applied; more efficient data protection rules were necessary.  She pointed out, in particular, that flexibility was needed regarding the treatment of data by public institutions. In her response to Claude Moraes (S&D-UK), Commissioner-designate Jourová said that she and Andrus Ansip (Vice-President-designate for the Digital Single Market) intended to proceed in a coordinated manner within the Commission on data privacy issues.  Andrzej Duda (ECR-Poland) asked the Commissioner-designate what she was planning to do to make sure new data protection rules will be well enforced.  The Commissioner-designate responded that “the reform pursues one important objective: to increase the trust of people” including in relation to online transactions.
  • Safe Harbor: In a response to a question made by Axel Voss (EPP-Germany) on the EP’s report on the National Security Agency (“NSA”) surveillance and a possible abrogation of the Safe Harbor agreement, Commissioner-designate Jourová responded that NSA and Safe Harbor are the most difficult topics she has ever encountered as privacy is at stake.  Privacy rights are recognized by the Charter and they cannot be compromised, she stated.  Jourová said that many MEPs had tried to convince her about their concerns on the Safe Harbor Agreement and that today she also had strong doubts.  Nevertheless, she was not willing to suspend Safe Harbor at this stage.

The Commissioner-designate stressed that once the new Commission is confirmed, she and Andrus Ansip will immediately address the question of data protection and data transfers outside the EU.  Jourová explained that she will not make concessions on the topic of data protection and privacy but that the question is complex.  It is necessary to restore trust in the EU and US, she said.

Commissioner-designate Jourová’s answers to the European Parliament’s questionnaire are available here.