Monday

27th May 2019

EU unveils '€415bn' digital strategy

  • Commission vice-president for digital single market Andrus Ansip showing his tablet to colleagues. (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission presented on Wednesday (6 May) its digital strategy which will, according to digital commissioner Gunther Oettinger, “reinforce our digital authority … give us digital sovereignty … and make us competitive globally”.

The German commissioner unveiled the Digital Single Market Strategy in Brussels together with vice-president Andrus Ansip.

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  • Commissioner for Digital Economy and society, Gunther Oettinger, at the commission's weekly college meeting ahead of the digital single market strategy presentation. (Photo: European Commission)

The paper, which outlines 16 initiatives in three “pillars”, promises that a digital single market can create €415 billion in additional growth annually.

The three pillars are: “Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe; shaping the right environment for digital networks and services to flourish; and creating a European Digital Economy and society with growth potential”.

The paper includes announcements for new legislative proposals to reform the copyright regime and to reduce the administrative burden on digital service providers.

It’s not the first time the EU commission has tried to create a digital single market.

Less than two years ago, the previous administration presented what it called “its most ambitious plan in 26 years of telecoms market reform”.

That plan has not yet been implemented.

Instead, national governments decided to reduce their negotiations with the European Parliament to just two measures from the plan: limiting the practice of roaming surcharges, and defining the concept of network neutrality.

Talks on the old proposal were meant to resume on Tuesday (5 May), but were delayed until the end of the month.

Meanwhile, intense lobbying isn’t making it easy for those arguing for rigorous changes to the status quo.

But Ansip said he had taken member states’ interests into account in order to make the proposals broadly palatable.

“The vast majority of member states have asked for the digital single market to happen. The strategy reflects their contributions and those of the European Parliament's main political groups”.

“I would like to say that this strategy is a document prepared also by member states”, he added.

Reactions

Reactions to the proposals were mixed.

DigitalEurope, representing Europe’s tech industries, said there’s “much ... to be recommended”.

Tech giant Vodafone noted that "ensuring people’s data and privacy are protected no matter where they are and what technology they use is essential."

Syed Kamall, a British centre-right MEP, praised the EU for trying to end the “bureaucratic nightmare" of cross-border VAT payments for small businesses.

Beuc, a consumer rights NGO, was more critical.

“Regrettably, the longstanding problem of copyright levies has been omitted", director general Monique Goyens said.

“The fact that less than 4 percent of ‘Video On Demand’ services are accessible across EU national borders shows the scale of the task ... harmonisation of copyright laws to allow for modern uses is a matter of urgency”.

But Veronique Desbrosses, the head of Gesac, a society representing European authors, took the opposite view, indicating that the real impact of the EU "strategy" is open to debate.

She “welcomed the intention of the commission to clarify the conditions for the use of copyright-protected works by online intermediaries”.

No deadline

With successive commissions having talked about completing the last elements of the single market for years, Ansip and Oettinger were careful not to be pinned down to exact dates.

“As far as a deadline, we thought about it, but … we know we're not the only ones who [have to] deliver”, an EU official said, referring to the European Parliament and the member states.

“The sooner, the better”, the official added.

With legislative proposals still needing to be tabled in the next year and a half, followed by position-taking by the member states and parliament, and subsequent negotiations between the institutions, it could take several years before European citizens and businesses feel the effect of Wednesday's strategy.

And this means there is a danger - as in the past - that the fast-evolving digital world will outpace the legislative process for the new digital strategy.

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