Last week, I mailed Mrs. Kroes, inquiring about her peculiar choice of advisors. I wasn’t the only one taken by surprise, it seems. Please find her reply below:
Thank you for responding to the announcement of my invitation to Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to assist me in our “No Disconnect” Strategy. We have had many reactions and some very useful suggestions, but I am not able to respond to each one individually. But I take them seriously, I value the opportunity the Internet gives you to voice those concerns, and I believe they deserve a response.
First, what is most important to me is the No Disconnect Strategy itself. Because my focus is on people who are suffering, and people whom we can help.
My invitation to Karl-Theodor to help me take this work forward is my choice, and it’s about how we can help people who struggle without the most basic rights you can think of. In the past I’ve worked personally with him, and I know he is capable of coming up with and delivering excellent ideas. I also know that we need someone with his international outlook and contacts to help us push these issues forward: someone who understands the highly relevant security and foreign affairs world. This does not preclude other people and ideas from being involved; far from it, I want to build grass-roots coalitions and capacities.
Some of you have already suggested names of activists we should get in touch with: thank you for doing so, we will follow up. I congratulate those who are working in this field, especially those on the ground. There are individuals who are so brave and resourceful, and organisations doing great work. This invitation does not diminish their achievement in any way; nor should it inhibit their work. Part of Karl-Theodor’s role will be to reach out to those people, to ensure that their work gets the proper support and recognition. And so I hope those people are able to share their ideas and experiences.
Second, others have taken issue with actions or decisions Karl-Theodor has taken in the past. My invitation does not mean that I condone plagiarism. I leave him to answer questions about his PhD thesis. But I do know that all of us make mistakes we regret, and that the only way individuals and societies can move forward is through recognition, forgiveness and focussing on good things that can be done in the future. He has paid the price, resigning from all political offices and being stripped of his doctoral degree. So my invitation is about what Karl-Theodor can do for suffering people in the future, not what you or I think about his past.
Meanwhile, one does not need to agree with all his past statements about internet policies while he was German Minister for the Economy. While all serious people share the goal of tackling child pornography, I accept that there are different views about the right way to do so online. And this debate needs to be calm and rational precisely because it is a very emotive topic.
But I hope you would agree this is far, far from the situation that people continue to face in non-democratic countries. These are people whose access to communications networks has been inhibited, blocked or spied on merely to repress fundamental freedoms and silence political dissent. And it is this that will be the focus of his work.
Third, let me clarify the conditions of his position, as I stated on Monday. There is no payment, no staff, no special treatment. He will be providing advice and assistance to me in a personal capacity. We will keep costs to a minimum, and I can assure you I’ll squeeze him for every good idea and every piece of feedback he has.
So I’d like to put this issue in its perspective. Across the digital agenda spectrum, quite a few people already advise and assist me in different areas, on media freedom and pluralism, young entrepreneurship, cloud computing, media futures, and others. People from Germany and across the world; people from all different political parties and those of none. Because I believe in taking advice from a wide spectrum, and linking together the many different stakeholders from different areas of expertise – whether that expertise is in technology, Internet activism, foreign affairs, healthcare or whatever.
So, please see my invitation for what it is: adding one more person with talent to the good ideas and the momentum for internet freedom. Don’t let this one choice determine your overall view of this strategy, nor of the Digital Agenda, nor the European Commission. The world is more complex than that. Judge Karl-Theodor ultimately on the quality of the advice he provides. Judge me, and hold me accountable, for the decisions I take on the basis of that advice.