Tough commissioner in line to rewrite Europe's data protection laws

Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner who for the past five years has championed consumer rights in the telecommunications arena, is to re-write the European Union's 15-year-old data protection laws.

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Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner who for the past five years has championed consumer rights in the telecommunications arena, is to re-write the European Union's 15-year-old data protection laws.

Reding is famous for slashing the cost of roaming charges that mobile phone operators impose on subscribers who use their mobile phones abroad.

But her most important achievement was to re-write Europe's telecom laws. The so-called telecom package of laws was finally adopted last week after two years of often tortuous negotiations.

In her new role as Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship she will have to perform a similar modernizing task by bringing Europe's key data protection law, the 1995 data protection directive, up to date.

"As telecoms commissioner she was responsible for a tiny part of the data protection area because the e-privacy directive was included in the telecoms package. Now she will take responsibility for the whole lot," said her spokesman Martin Selmayr in a telephone interview.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso announced how he wants to allocate dossiers in his next five-year term in office. His team comprises one Commissioner from each of the 27 member states of the EU, who were selected by national heads of government over the past month.

Other choices include Neelie Kroes in Reding's old job. Kroes was competition commissioner for the past five years. During that time she fought Microsoft in the long-running antitrust battle which looks set to end as Microsoft appears willing to settle.

Her new role is likely to worry some in the telecoms industry, who believe she is less willing than Reding to fight the corner of smaller telecoms companies trying to compete against the former incumbents.

However, Selmayr dismissed such concerns. "Ms Reding feels that the telecoms dossier couldn't be in better hands," he said.

The competition portfolio, meanwhile, goes to Joaquin Almunia, the current commissioner for economic and monetary affairs. Almunia is seen as a heavyweight player, although he and the Commission did come under some criticism during the financial crisis for failing to coordinate national governments' responses.

Many Brussels observers predict that Almunia is likely to come up against Google during the next five years in the antitrust field, now that the Microsoft case appears to be winding down after ten years.

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