Viviane Reding is no iron lady - she IS for turning, as this weeks events reveal a u-turn on her position of 6 months' ago.
Amid the furore over the Telecoms Package and Amendment 138, which put paid to the French government's plans to cut users off the Internet for alleged copyright infringement, EU Information Society Comissioner Viviane Reding has now come down on the side of the citizen.
Speaking at a conference in Brussels on Wednesday, she is reported to have underlined the importance of citizens as stakeholders in the debate over the future of the Internet. According to a report in EUobserver, which organised the conference, she said that "the parliament's amendment was an important re-statement of citizens' fundamental rights, and that cutting off someone's access to the internet also cut them off from searching for jobs, from health records anda range of other vital information".
EuObserver also gave a direct quote from her comments in the debate: "Too often when we talk about stakeholders in the world of the internet, we think of the telcos and the rights holders as the only stakeholders...But our citizens are stakeholders too." Apparently, she also hailed YouTube as a business model to be followed, which must have delighted the Google lobbyist who was also speaking.
Mrs Reding's new position is obviously to be welcomed. It is so refreshing to hear someone in authority speaking up for citizen's rights, especially when they are under threat from industrial interests, as is the case with the Internet.
However, let us not forget where she was only 5 months' ago. Speaking then at a Convergence conference in Paris, she said: "For me, the graduated response, discussed at the moment here, in France, appears to be a proportional possibility for our information society in Europe, and I am happy that, at the recent meeting of European culture ministers in Cannes, my view was largely shared." She also called for a 'rigorous protection of intellectual property rights as the basis for creativity and cultural diversity' , echoing the words of the rights-holder industries in the copyright enforcement debate. I think it is fairly safe to say that her position then was 180 degrees from the one she is taking now - and a blatant U-turn.
It's also worth noting that her job comes up for renewal next year. Since 1999, when the Parliament sacked the entire Commission, it has had a say in the appointment of Commissioners, and it can and will ask for a re-shuffle if it is not happy with the choices made by the Commission President, as happened in 2004. At the risk of repeating what I've said elsewhere, if Mrs Reding wants to serve another term, she needs the backing of the Parliament. Being too cosy with big business won't get her re-selected. Championing the citizen, might give her a better chance.
23rd October 2008:It's interesting to note that Mme Reding is now getting fed up with all the accusations that she supported graduated response, and she's tired of the finger-pointing at the Commission. In a report by Le Monde Informatique, she says:
« D'ici là, je ne veux plus en entendre parler,... Maintenant, c'est au Conseil des ministres européens de décider ce qu'il veut faire. ... Que les Français fassent leur projet de loi dans l'indépendance et sans instrumentaliser les uns et les autres. (Translation: from now on I want to hear no more about it. Now, it is up to the Council of Ministers to decide what they are going to do. The French must get on with their project independently, and without involving others).
She also said: "C'est très simple, je n'ai jamais parlé de la riposte graduée... J'ai parlé de la réforme du cadre télécoms." (Translation: It's very simple, I never spoke about riposte graduee...I spoke about reform of the telecoms framework.)
For the Commissioner to do a U-turn is one thing. To deny she said something which is a matter of public record is another.