Why Is Your Bigoted, Luddite Uncle Crafting Internet Policy In Europe?
from the seems-like-a-problem dept
A few weeks ago, we were greatly troubled to see the ridiculous copyright policy come out of the EU Commission. The whole thing seemed like a really bad joke. It was a law basically designed to destroy entrepreneurship and startups on the internet, and to basically forcibly take money from large internet companies and give them to failing legacy media companies that had refused to innovate. It seemed to go against what basically everyone (other than those legacy companies) had been telling the European Commission. And it seemed to directly violate what the European Commission itself had said about its plans. The inclusion of things like forcing any company to install filters, the plans to require specific business models at the regulatory level, and the idea that sites should have to pay those they link to are all ridiculous.
What almost everyone involved in the process made clear, was that this whole thing was driven by one guy: Gunther Oettinger a former tax lawyer who was appointed the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society a few years ago, despite the fact that he’s not a fan of the internet at all. If you pay any attention at all to EU politics, you may have heard the name Gunther Oettinger quite a bit lately. That’s because he got caught making a series of remarks that were bigoted, racist, sexist and homophobic (he hit basically everything). He made fun of the Chinese, using racist terminology. He made fun of women in the government. He mocked gay marriage. He was on quite a roll.
Oh, and then he absolutely refused to apologize for a while:
Gunther Oettinger: Everything has been said. There is nothing to apologise for.
Euroactiv’s James Crisp: But there is a big scandal.
Oettinger: There is no scandal.
Of course, as more and more publications around the globe started talking about it he finally was forced to release a statement with a carefully worded apology:
I had time to reflect on my speech, and I can now see that the words I used have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people. This was not my intention and I would like to apologise for any remark that was not as respectful as it should have been.
Of course, at this time, Politico has also released a big profile on what they refer to as Oettinger’s “strange career.” The article notes that this little bigoted outburst is not a surprise and considered no big deal to his supporters — a columnist from his hometown describes it as “That?s just how our Oetti is,” in the same way you brush off your annoying bigot of an uncle at family gatherings with his horrible opinions. Except this bigoted uncle is setting serious policy issues across Europe — and ones that can have a major, major impact on the internet and freedom of expression, despite an almost ridiculous ignorance of technology — something he almost seems to take glee in not caring about.
From the article:
Back in 2014, Brussels didn?t have high hopes for him when he shifted from energy to take over the digital economy portfolio. He could be curt, tearing up his notes if he deemed a subject unworthy of his attention. In the often pretentious world of Brussels officialdom, he came across as unintellectual and unserious ? more likely to obsess over cars or football than trade deals or European Union directives.
To make matters worse, as a die-hard Luddite, he seemed uniquely unqualified for his new position. His more tech-savvy boss, Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, was at ease on social media or on the trendiest apps, like Pokemon Go.
Oettinger, as he told the crowd at his now-infamous Hamburg speech last week, preferred an old-fashioned newspaper to Twitter and document printouts to a tablet or iPhone. As he settled into his office, his aides rushed to install a computer and carry away piles of paper stacked precariously on every available surface.
In the 22 months since his appointment, Oettinger has changed little. He continues to express more interest in breakthroughs in the automotive industry than the more abstract areas of his portfolio, such as data flows or ICT standards. His home in Brussels, he told a group of reporters and tech lobbyists recently, is not set up for Wi-Fi ? something he attributes to his long hours at the office. At home, he prefers ?a nice bottle of Bordeaux? to a broadband connection, he added.
And yet… he’s the guy in charge of crafting digital/internet and copyright policy in the EU. How does this make any sense at all? Now, there’s something to be said for sometimes having an outsider’s view on things, and no one’s arguing that he needs to come from the internet industry or anything like that. But Oettinger not only seems to not understand and not care about the internet, but he also seems to have no problem playing political favoritism with old legacy industries where he has friends — especially industries who have been impacted by innovation and failed to embrace the internet.
While Ansip has struggled to push forward his ambitious agenda centered around breaking down digital barriers, often referred to as geo-blocking, Oettinger has used his negotiating skills to deliver for his allies in industry, like the German publishing sector, a series of high-profile victories.
During the summer, he strong-armed his way into negotiations on boosting European startups, infuriating his more innovation-focused colleagues. Before that, he bulldozed past Vodafone to accept a plan that would keep some power over German copper network cables in the hands of giant Deutsche Telekom.
So we’re left with your nutty, bigoted, luddite uncle… and put him effectively in charge of making policy choices that will impact the entire internet, and no one seems to care that he’s more focused on delivering favors to his friends in the old, legacy industries that failed to adapt.
Doesn’t that seem like a problem?