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?

Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    JT, 4 Nov 2016 @ 6:32am

    Could have saved us

    Damnit, if the british press knew about this guy we'd never have voted out. He's like a personified tabloid paper

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2016 @ 6:51am

      Re: Could have saved us

      Ha ha ha... for acting so superior, they failed only themselves.

      And no, the problem is not that this guy exists, the problem if that they allow him to exist in that position.

      Every Nation gets the government it deserves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2016 @ 10:03am

        Re: Re: Could have saved us

        As soon as mr. tax-evasion Juncker was elected, his team was not named a theater of horror for nothing. And particularly Merkels continued export of the trouble-maker Oettinger was a big one. Oettinger doesn't belong in Bruxelles and he doesn't care about his portfolio. That he is starting to make inflamatory remarks about subjects far from his job is just an escalation of his complete meltdown of interest in subjects.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 6:38am

    He likes to apologize?

    If he would like to apologize then he should try it. I would like to say that it will make him feel better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 7:08am

    His US Counterpart

    Don't be so smug you americans - looks like you could well be electing his long lost twin brother as president in a day or two!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 7:29am

    To make matters worse, as a die-hard Luddite, he seemed uniquely unqualified for his new position.

    This is tricky. While I agree that he's probably not the best guy for the job, it's dangerous to take a principled stand on that particular principle, because of the way it can come back and bite you in the end: you're essentially saying that nobody who is against X has any business setting policy for X. (Abortion and the drilling of new oil wells immediately come to mind, to drive the point home on both sides of the political spectrum.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 7:39am

      Re:

      "you're essentially saying that nobody who is against X has any business setting policy for X. (Abortion and the drilling of new oil wells immediately come to mind, to drive the point home on both sides of the political spectrum.)"

      Uh, no, that is NOT what's being said. What's being said is that the people in charge of a specific function, X, should not be willfully ignorant of X. To use your examples, someone making decisions on abortion should not be unaware of basic reproductive medical facts, and someone in charge of oil drilling policy should not be unaware of basic geological facts. Imagine, for instance, if someone were to be in charge of oil drilling policy show said, "I have not interest in oil at all, nor any idea of how it works. That said, here are the rules."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 8:27am

        Re: Re:

        As far as my understanding of the term as well as anything I can look up for a definition a Luddite is just a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology. They don't really need to be willfully ignorant or ignorant of technology at all.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          jupiterkansas (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 8:55am

          Re: Re: Re:

          That's what it means, but that's not how it's used. Generally calling someone a Luddite means they aren't interested in new technology and just prefer the old old way of doing things.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 9:06am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I think there's levels depending on context. It can mean someone merely resistant to new tech or cautious about using it. Or, it can mean someone who is stubbornly attached to the old ways and absolutely refuses to adjust or learn new technology, sometimes to the extent of actively trying to sabotage it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2016 @ 8:22am

      Re:

      you're essentially saying that nobody who is against X has any business setting policy for X.

      If you're ever in a position to hire someone for a particular function, keep that principle in mind. I'd be really interested in seeing how that works out for you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 8:36am

      Re:

      "you're essentially saying that nobody who is against X has any business setting policy for X"

      Not really, it's saying that people who are wilfully ignorant of the subject don't have any business making decisions on the finer points of the subject.

      For example - you don't personally like having wifi at home so you can unwind after a day at the office? Fine, not a problem whether that's an educated decision or not. You still have to keep abreast of the issues and the regulations that affect people who either don't have that luxury or still have to use it in their business day - or actually *like* to do something you don't care for. Remaining ignorant means the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons.

      If you'd rather be messing around with cars, that's fine, but you shouldn't be making public policy on the internet if you not only have no interest in it, but actively avoid it and anything to do with it.

      "Abortion and the drilling of new oil wells immediately come to mind"

      I wouldn't want someone vehemently in opposition to either of those things to be in charge of their public policy either. Even if you don't like them, you have to have an understanding of the subject and why they may be necessary despite reasonable opposition. Sometimes those in charge have to make hard decisions or make difficult compromises, and a person who is vehemently against or is wilfully ignorant of the subject will not be able to do those things.

      A luddite mentality will get in the way of a lot of issues unnecessarily. Healthy scepticism or caution is one thing, luddites are quite another.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 10:20am

        Re: Re:

        I wouldn't want someone vehemently in opposition to either of those things to be in charge of their public policy either. Even if you don't like them, you have to have an understanding of the subject and why they may be necessary despite reasonable opposition.

        See, that's exactly the point that you are missing. You appear to be operating under the unspoken assumption that simply because something exists and is widespread to some degree, that there necessarily exists a legitimate need for it.

        Do you believe it's ever the case that this is not true?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 7 Nov 2016 @ 1:32am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "You appear to be operating under the unspoken assumption that simply because something exists and is widespread to some degree, that there necessarily exists a legitimate need for it"

          No, but both of the things you mentioned have a genuine requirement to exist, at least at the moment. Oil wells, we might be able to get rid of in the long term if we continue to be able to fund alternative energy sources. Abortion will continue to both be necessary under extreme circumstances, and continue to be sought after even if completely outlawed. That's reality, I'm afraid.

          "Do you believe it's ever the case that this is not true?"

          Yes. Can you stop putting false words into my mouth and address my real opinions for change?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Derek Kerton (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 11:34am

      Re:

      But the article also wrote this:

      "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."

      So Mike is specifically, and carefully, NOT taking a rigid "principled stand on that particular principle".

      Masnick makes it clear the problem is NOT that Oetti is not from the industry, but rather Oetti is bad because:

      "But Oettinger not only seems to not understand and not care...also seems to have no problem playing political favoritism with old legacy industries."

      You have criticized something in the article that is specifically mentioned as NOT being the argument of the article.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2016 @ 7:41am

    in other words, Gunther Oettinger is even more corrupt and even more anti- the public getting anything, than even the previously thought super-corrupt politicians in the EU parliament! the questions to ask are who fronted him to get this job and why did he get fronted in the first place? what did the person who did the recommending get out of it? which section of which industry IN PARTICULAR wanted him in this top position? what did he actually get out of it in return for getting this position? how the hell can he be ousted from this position and someone with a bit of sense and less corrupt replace him?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anonymous Dutch coward, 4 Nov 2016 @ 8:07am

    promoted

    this was a "promote away" job to get rid of the man in Germany and I believe he is again promoted away to some EU financial job. somebody help us!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2016 @ 8:25am

    Not banned, but totally fits him

    Unlike what the Politico profile claims, the "Deutschland uber alles" verse isn't banned. I's just that the only ones singing it today tend to be the kind of people who hold glowing obituaries for notorious Nazi judges. Yep, another one of his achievements...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2016 @ 10:02am

    "Why Is Your Bigoted, Luddite Uncle Crafting Internet Policy In Europe?"

    Why not on this side of the pond politicians are the corrupt cousin with an addiction (porn, drugs, but mostly money).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 10:46am

    This never gets old, Oettinger trying to speak English:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RrEQ8Ovw-Q

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violated (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 11:00am

    What all politicians should realise is that legacy copyright organisations and modern Internet services have completely polarised views on most copyright enforcement matters. This is stated from their own political questionnaires sent out to hundreds of organisations.

    So what is needed is gentle steps in the limited areas of agreement and bargaining over areas of disagreement.

    What they therefore need to avoid is a proposal based on only one side which would be hated by the other side. Or do they so quickly forget public and Internet contempt over SOPA, PIPA and ACTA?

    So I can only say throw this proposal in the bin where it belongs when it is only a MAFIAA wet dream in a world where no one else exists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2016 @ 3:51am

    How is this a problem now?

    Europe has always been this way. Protectionist to the maximum, anti-American and in particular large corporations, anti-technology, anti-anti-yada-yada-yada. Is it still illegal to say transistor on French media? My guess is yes.

    Why would you expect anything else? That is the question.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2016 @ 12:33pm

      Re: How is this a problem now?

      " anti-American "

      Europe isn't anti-Amercian. The EU is against those North Koreans who killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in a war violating the basic human rights in Irak and Afghanistan... Oh the was the US.

      The North Koreans were those guys who spread napalm over Vietnam that burned thousands of innocents after they imagined the Golf of Ton-kin incident... oh that was the US too.


      Ah right those guys, I mean, seriously... the father ruled there and then some years later the son took over ... how could any democracy like the US support that? well... Ok the Bush family but soon you will have learned from your mistake in make the queen president. Just imagine the innovation!

      Back to topic, those anti democratic pieces of sh** sold billions worth of weapons to the monarchy of Saudi Arabia which kills people based on sharia law... oh no, that was the US too.

      Mind explaining why you sell weapons worth $80+ billions to Saudi Arabia and fight sharia law at the same time? I guess not because you'd have to explain how a prince and a queen can rule the land while you still claim you are a democracy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Elain, 5 Nov 2016 @ 7:29am

    Oh gawd, it's like GEMA all over again :/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ionut, 6 Nov 2016 @ 1:02am

    From the cookie law series...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2016 @ 9:54am

    All is good!

    Oettinger isn't commissioner for digital affairs anymore!

    Now he controls the finances of the EU...of all the EU... What could possibly go wrong?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.