Yesterday, we visited the European Commission! We walked in at 9:20 AM and went through security. We were first greeted by Nicole Peil and were given a few minutes to look around in the Visitors Center before our briefings. The Visitors Center is very interactive, with an entire wall dedicated to a touch-screen display of the current Commissioners. The opposite wall shows previous Presidents and their achievements. After ten minutes or so, we were directed to a presentation room.
Our first briefing was from Simon Genevaz and Laurent Forestier on the topic of competition policy and what the Commission does about mergers. Mr. Forestier walked us through the Commission’s policies and rules in a theoretical sense. He described the history of the policies and what he thought the future might hold for competition policy. Mr. Genevaz then explained a case study- the Siemens-Alstom merger. He gave us a quick history of both companies and then illustrated how their merger would have negative consequences. He then asked us what we would do to solve the problem, and showed us a few potential solutions that were discarded. After we had thought for a few minutes, Mr. Genevaz unveiled the actual solution: the European Commissioner blocked their merge completely! At the end of their presentation, Mr. Forestier and Mr. Genevaz took our questions. One of the most interesting questions was Anika’s- she wondered if the Commission ever exerts merger control solely for security reasons. The answer Mr. Forestier gave us was no; the European Commission analyzes companies regardless of where they are from. When security is involved, different laws apply.
Our second briefing was from Franco Roccatagliata on the topic of international taxes and the laws surrounding them. He was very nice and funny; he captivated us with an interesting presentation. Mr. Roccatagliata talked about how important it is for us to understand international law, especially as students of international relations! He even gave us his personal email so that we could reach out with any questions. He then explained tax havens in detail and showed us how they impact the economy of the European Union. He also talked about the criminality of tax evasion and the difficulties that come with the digitalization of our economy. It was more interesting than one would have guessed! Mr. Roccatagliata then took questions. One of the best questions was Kyle’s, which was whether companies should be concerned about taxation if they receive money for things that are “bad” or illegal, such as when Facebook received money from Russia to promote certain ads during the US election. Mr. Roccatagliata told us that the taxation is the least of their worries!
Our third briefing was on the topic of data privacy, given by Bruno Gencarelli. He spoke about the delicate balance between privacy and security. He also explained GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in great detail, which was really helpful. He told us what his responsibilities are- to the extent that he could! Mr. Gencarelli works with confidential information daily. The most interesting part of his presentation was the question and answer session. Jordan asked him what we all wanted to know- what was the Commission doing about Huawei? (Huawei is a Chinese technology company that is currently attempting to be the first global 5G provider. Many countries, including the US, are uncomfortable with this, as China could have easy access to individuals’ data.) Mr. Gencarelli told us that different countries had different opinions, and that the EU has not decided on one specific response. He stated that the EU has to see what other companies have to offer, and that they will pick the best network. He also reminded us that Huawei is not run by the government of China. He told us that at the recent G20 meeting, Japan started an initiative called Data Free Flow with Trust, which is a plan to create an alternative data pool, created on the basis of healthy human-centric values. This is the first time that conversation has happened internationally, so that was really cool!
Over all, it was incredibly interesting to be allowed inside the European Commissioner and to hear from some of its hardest workers on issues that interest us and the people around us!