SERN Policy Briefing: Arts & ICT, Mariya Gabriel, and the new Commission


Arts & ICT: what will the next Commission bring?


Mariya Gabriel and Margrethe Vestager are two new Commission members. Their roles will impact Arts & ICT importantly.

SERN Policy Briefing #1  ;  7/9/2020

On 1 December 2019, the EU’s new commission took office. Led by von der Leyen, the commission had been elected on the 27th November. It will have three executive Vice-Presidents. The first will be ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans. The Dutch will be responsible for the overlook of the EU’s green policy. Margrethe Vestager will be the second. The Danish politician will control digital affairs, in Europe. A closer background on her will be provided, later on. This will be done for a particular reason. She will likely have an important say, in Arts & ICT issues. The third is Valdis Dombrovskis. The ex-PM has the mission of overseeing “An Economy that Works for People”.

Diverse backgrounds are the origin of the 27 commissioners. Of their mandate, two offices will be particularly important. The first regards the “European Green Deal”, and the second concerns the “Digital Age.” There are two commissioners which will affect Arts & ICT. The first is Mariya Gabriel- “Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth”. The second, as already mentioned, is Margrethe Vestager. She has been assigned with regulating “A Europe Fit for the Digital Age”. Below, we’ll try to analyse their impact in the artistic, and communications sector.

Before discussing what we should expect of the commissioners, we should remember their background. Different officials have distinct pasts and varied experiences. This usually affects its future policies. Take, for example, an official’s ideological past. If it’s a liberal one, then he may support more financial deregulation. If it’s leftist, he may fight for cohesion.

Another impacting factor is a commissioner’s experience. For example, he may have held office in a European state. This has probably trained his decision-making. EU backgrounds are also critical, regarding tenures. Commission members can have such past, having worked in the European Civil Service. This may ease their future work, in the executive, very much. For example, they might have critical networks in the European bureaucracy. Also, they may know the latter’s complex workings.

The first commissioner whose background we’ll review is Mariya Gabriel. The second is Margrethe Vestager.

Mariya Gabriel

C: European Union, 2017

Mariya Gabriel is a Bulgarian politician and belongs to the GERB party. The latter group considers itself conservative and is populist. Nevertheless, it’s pro-EU, unlike other European populists. Since 2007, it has come first on all EU Parliament Elections. Also, it has won most Bulgarian Parliamentary elections. Boyko Borisov chairs it, and GERB’s headquarters are in Sofia.

For her age, Gabriel has an important EU experience. She was part of the EU’s Parliament during 2009-2017. During her tenure, she was Vice-President of the EPP group. She also headed the Bulgarian delegation to the European cluster. As an MP, she made part of several committees. The LIBE (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) is an example. There, she overlooked key migration policies. An example regards visa liberalizations, concerning Colombia and Peru.

Mariya Gabriel was part of other committees, too. For example, she integrated AFET (Foreign Affairs) or FEMM (Women’s Rights and Gender Equality). She also belonged to the AGRI committee (Agriculture and Rural Development). As part of the latter, she took important initiatives. She fought for a more flexible agricultural policy, for 2014-2020. Between 2014 and 2017, she also campaigned for apiculture and bee health.

An important initiative of Gabriel was the Danube strategy. The program was focused on the macro-region. It intended to coordinate policies, under the Europe 2020 strategy.  Its goal was smart, inclusive and sustainable growth focused on twelve priority areas. Its extent was interestingly large: nine EU members, and 5 non-members. Also, it used a “bottom-up” approach. The project was quite open to citizen/community participation.

In 2017, Bulgarian PM Borisov nominated Gabriela commissioner. She substituted Kristalina Georgieva, who was serving since 2014. In 2019, von der Leyen gave her the supervision of Innovation and Youth. Her role, in the new commission, shouldn’t be underestimated. She will impact key initiatives, over the coming tenure. For example, implementation of Horizon Europe will rest on her. Also, she’ll contribute towards a European Research Area.


C: Patrícia de Melo Moreira (AFP)

The second commissioner affecting Arts and ICT is Margretha Vestager. She has the chore of making the EU “Fit for the Digital Age”. Her roles regard SME strategies, and she’s an executive Vice-President. Her main challenges will regard data sharing and AI.

Vestager’s academic background is in economics. She studied in Copenhagen and entered politics at 21. The Danish Social Liberal Party, a centrist group, is what she identifies with. The group belongs to the ALDE and has two MEPs in the European Parliament. In 2001, she was elected for the Danish Parliament. 6 years later, he managed to replace her party’s parliamentary group leader. This would be the start of her political ascension.

Vestager has a considerable background in economics. Her domain of the area isn’t only academic, of course. In 2011-2014, she was responsible for Denmark’s Economy and Interior Affairs. She’s known for having made cuts on Denmark’s unemployment benefits. Because the country had nearly escaped recession, liberal policies looked fit.

Another important Vestager campaign regarded Basel III liquidity. She opposed the rules, believing banks should use 75% more in covered bonds. Vestager also promoted, in 2014, a growth package. Its goal was to stimulate post-crisis recovery. The measures had considerable success. The country’s output rose by $ 1.1 billion, and companies drastically cut their costs.

During the governmental tenure, Vestager gained knowledge on the EU’s economy. In 2012, Denmark had been appointed president of the Council of Ministers. Thus, Vestager chaired most ECOFIN meetings. During this period, relevant financial decisions were taken. For example, she ceded two EU seats in the IMF to emerging economies. Also, she contributed to the goal of an EU Banking Union.

Vestager’s EU career got a boost in 2014. She got a place in the Juncker Commission, heading Competition. Her tenure was marked by a fight against illegal state aids. For example, she faced Gazprom, regarding EU antitrust rules. The Russian giant had been competing illegally, with eastern-European countries.

An example was the case against Apple (see bibliography, on state aid cases), which was ordered to pay a fine of 13 Billion €. The company had been receiving large Irish tax benefits. As a response, Ireland would later create the CAIA arrangement. This would allow Apple to execute a major tax-inversion. Such would rise Irish GDP by about 34%. Apple wasn’t the only titan Vestager faced. She also chased companies such as Starbucks, or Amazon.

In 2019, Vestager was nominated, Commissioner. She was given the responsibility of preparing Europe for the digital age. During her tenure, she will face critical challenges such as big data, or privacy issues.


Future Policies: expectations from Mariya Gabriel and Margrethe Vestager


Above, we have summarized the commissioners’ background. With this in mind, it’s now possible to forecast. What can we expect, from Gabriel and Vestager, regarding Arts & ICT? The answer isn’t completely clear. It has only been three months since their offices’ beginning. Thus, Brussels hasn’t seen yet how they’ll “shape” their roles.

Though precise predictions are impossible, assumptions can be made. A possible first one regards Arts. Likely, they’ll not receive as much attention as before 2019. Indeed, none of the current commission’s roles includes the word “arts”. The role which draws the closest is Gabriel’s: “Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.”

Also, Gabriel lacks a distinct background in the arts. She is not known to have managed large art projects. Also, she has never held senior positions in the area. Indeed, culture seems to be absent from her curriculum. Such was observed by MEPs, during the Commissions hearings. Education and research were also non-existent in her experience, it was noted.

Regarding Mariya Gabriel ’s role, an observation can be made. It seems to include too many areas. Will she be able to manage so many issues? It’s not clear. She’ll be assisted by a numerous EU civil service. Still, the role seems too small for so many responsibilities. This, of course, will also play against Arts. With so many topics, focus on each one of them will decrease. If Arts isn’t even mentioned, then it will be even less addressed. This, of course, might impact funding.

An important remark, about research, can be made. Though research is absent from Gabriel’s past, it will probably be incentivized. The EU is strongly committed to developing new technologies. Such is affected by the international dynamics. Over the last years, China has been financing research. Doing so, it hopes, will bridge the gap with US technology. In this midst, the EU does not want to be left behind.

Together with Research, Innovation will receive plenty of attention. Here, Gabriel already has a relevant past. As previously noted, she promoted the Danube strategy. This plan was focused on smart growth, in the region. Here, a question can be asked. Gabriel has, for a long time, been an advocate of eastern/Balkan development. Will she favour an “eastern” allocation of funds? Maybe. Independently of funds, she will likely foster central European development. We will see important initiatives in the area, over the coming tenure.

As we’ve seen above, research will be incentivized. Interestingly, this might be beneficial for Arts. Obviously, absent from Commission roles, the area can be side-lined. Still, Research development might improve Arts projects. It will do so marginally, of course. We may see, for example, breakthroughs in ICT. This might be used by some artists, in unexpected ways. Also, Arts might benefit (in a small way) from research funds.

What strategies should Arts & ICT adopt, facing the above? We would advise them to enhance their “research” component. This can help them access research funds. Of course, adopting such tactics might be difficult. In such a way, it will be difficult to make a competitive proposal. It’s difficult to invest in research and “artisticness” equally.

R&D’s importance, over the coming tenure, shouldn’t be underestimated. It’ll be, together with the environment, a next commission “hot topic”. As it’s known, climate change will be addressed by the “Green Deal”. Its supervision will rely on Commissioner Frans Timmermans. Research and innovation will be given context by “Horizon Europe”.

Horizon Europe will continue Horizon 2020’s mission. It serves as the program’s successor, for the period 2021-2028. Horizon 2020 proved itself spectacularly beneficial for European growth. Thus, enabling a smooth transition between both will be essential. Here, Gabriel will have (among other officials) an important say.

Horizon Europe will have beneficial implications for ICT. These are, nowadays, one of the fastest growing industries. They seem a “magnet” for investment and entrepreneurship. They are, by excellence, fertile soil for innovation and research. Thus, we’ll probably see big developments in this area. Needless to say, a critical part of Horizon funds will go to ICT.

The Green Deal-Horizon Europe synergy will be important. For example, about 35% of HE funds, will go to climate objectives (see NCP Flanders- references). Indeed, the climate is such a priority that it’ll impact HE’s successor. The value at stake, in Horizon 2020, is about € 1 billion. Such funds will go to green deal priorities. In this context, an idea stands out. For funding, highlighting a project’s green face will be important. This might be critical for Arts &ICT projects. The negative impact of “Arts” might be mitigated by including green components.

Commissioner Vestager will also impact ICT. ICT will have a remarkable role in “Digital Europe”. Digitalization is expected to grow, especially in Europe. Thus, the Danish’s role is of the utmost importance. Vestager will, besides Gabriel, overview the Horizon transitions. She will be most likely to support the “digital allocation” of Horizon funds. Such will be critical for ICT projects.

Interestingly, Vestager will remain commissioner for competition. Might this, together with her past, impact digital policies? It is likely. For example, she may protect EU technology growth. She may foster innovation in European ICT, protecting it from foreign competitors. This might affect Arts & ICT in a particular way. Innovation in these might enjoy some cover, against foreign research.

The two commissioners’ tenure won’t be easy. They overlook subjects which are associated with important challenges. An example is Data and Artificial Intelligence. Though promising, these technologies are doubled edged swords. They raise critical questions, regarding privacy and democracy. Keeping an eye on EU policy, over the coming tenure, is a must.



[EU Commision (2016). Commission Decision on State Aid (Against Apple). Retrieved from] [European Comission (2018). Horizon Europe – the next research and innovation framework programme. Retreived from] [European Comission (2019). A European Green Deal. Retreived from] [EU Commission (2019). Margretha Vestager. Retrieved from] [EU Commission (2019). Mariya Gabriel. Retrieved from] [NCP Flanders (2020, 29 January). The EU investment plan – green deal.] [The Danube Strategy. Retrieved from] [Ubeda, M. (2019, October 9). Next European Commission: a pursuit of synergies for culture in the Digital Age. Retreived from]

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