Exclusive: Commission seeks Frenchman for top standards job over fears of foreign links

Exclusive: Commission seeks Frenchman for top standards job over fears of foreign links

The European Commission is encouraging EU member states to support a French candidate when they vote next month on a new leader for standardisation body ETSI, over fears of links between two other key contenders with foreign businesses.

The commission told national representatives that “standardisation bodies are becoming more political” and therefore asked them to back French candidate Gilles Brégant, director of the French spectrum agency ANFR and a former employee of the French Economy Ministry, for the job, according to minutes of a recent meeting seen by Euronews.

Also up for the job are Spaniard Luis Jorge Romero, ETSI’s director-general since 2011 and former Telefonica official, and Swede Jan Ellsberger, an ex-Vice President of Ericsson, former Vice President of Industry Development at Chinese tech company Huawei in Germany, and now advisor to a consultancy firm.

The minutes of the meeting between representatives of the 27 EU countries and the commission show that the EU executive is concerned about appointing a candidate with a link to a foreign company.

Ellsberger, employed by ETSI in the past, told Euronews however that he has not come across any problems related to his previous employer Huawei during the procedure.

"If the selection committee would have seen an issue, I would not have been a candidate. There has been a lot of speculation among people who don't know how ETSI works. I have also had discussions with European Commission staff on my plans for the years ahead, if I get elected," he said.

“Many ETSI members find my relatively short Huawei employment to be to my advantage since it brought me a good understanding of how China works, which the members consider a valuable asset when managing a European organisation in a landscape that is influenced by, and works with entities from outside of Europe”, he added.


The European Telecommunications Standards Institute’s (ETSI) general assembly will vote for the next director-general on 16 April. Three candidates have been picked out of over 200 contestants by a selection committee.

Members and national administrations will vote in two rounds to select a new director-general.

When asked for an comment, a commission spokesperson told Euronews that ETSI is an independent organisation.

"The Commission, as counsellor to ETSI, has neither voting rights within the organisation, nor a role in the selection procedures of the Director General. As such, we have no comment on the ongoing election process," the spokesperson said.

ETSI, founded in 1988, sets up globally applicable standards for ICT-connected systems, applications and services and has more than 850 member organisations, in 60 different countries.

Standards play an important role in emerging technologies such as AI. Euronews reported last week that the commission will soon begin work on cybersecurity standardisation requests for high-risk connected products. However, standardisation requests from Brussels are only a small part of ETSI's work, some 70% of it is coming from the industry itself.

ETSI did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.