Sunday

18th Nov 2018

Interview

Nordic-Baltic digital market 'no threat to EU'

  • Nordic-Baltic digital single market is complementary, not a threat to, that of the EU, said Norwegian state secretary Chaffey (Photo: Tom Hansen / Innovasjon Norge)

The Nordic-Baltic digital cooperation is not an alternative to the EU's digital single market strategy but an added value, said Paul Chaffey, state secretary at the Norwegian ministry of local government and modernisation.

"Nordic cooperation is sometimes looking for new challenges," he told EUobserver in an interview, in the margins of a digital presidency conference organised by the Ceps think tank in Brussels last week.

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"We thought, with Estonia in the EU presidency and us in the Nordic presidency, we could use that as an opportunity to … lift it on the political agenda, and see what can we do in practice together, our countries, to realise the digital single market," explained Chaffey.

Norway in 2017 held the annually rotating presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, an intergovernmental cooperation forum consisting also of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Aaland, Faroe Islands, and Greenland.

Denmark, Finland, and Sweden are also EU members, while Norway and Iceland take part in many of the EU's single market legislation through the European Free Trade Association (Efta).

Estonia, which makes up the Baltics with Latvia and Lithuania, meanwhile held the six-month Council of the EU presidency, which it used to portray itself as a pioneering digital nation and share what it saw as best practice approaches towards digitisation.

Last April, the Nordic and Baltic countries came together in Oslo and signed a declaration saying that they wanted "to show the way for digitalisation of Europe".

But Chaffey explained that this did not mean that the EU's overarching digital strategy is dismissed.

"The EU is doing a fine job," he said about the legislative push towards more harmonised rules on digital affairs.

"What we want do is add value on top, and do things in practice, that have to do with border controls, that have to do with free movement of data, and if the EU catches up, that's a fine thing, because we might have been able to show the way in some areas," said the Norwegian politician.

While the EU sets the goals, the implementation of policy is in the hands of the national governments of member states.

The idea behind the Nordic-Baltic cooperation is to do the implementation in unison.

"The EU is on a multinational level and doesn't invest in the IT platforms in individual countries. A lot of these areas are a national responsibility. Education, health care are examples of that," he noted.

He gave as an example that students from one Nordic country in another could benefit if government databases are linked so that they can access health or municipal services.

Geo-blocking

The regional cooperation could also take steps on some files where the EU has been unable to progress, such as geo-blocking of audiovisual media.

In many cases, it is not possible to stream sports events or watch certain online films or series from another EU country.

"We have the same debate that's going on in the rest of Europe there," said Chaffey.

In particular citizens in a country like Finland, with a Swedish linguistic minority, could benefit from the lifting of geo-blocking of Swedish content, for example.

"There are these cases of minorities, who might be very interested in what's going on in another country, or you have communities of immigrants that you have to cater for in some way, and the rules and regulations don't do that," said the Norwegian.

"There are loads of sand that can be put in the machinery because there are commercial interests – legitimate interests: people have to make a living from what they create."

He noted that making rules in the digital world is "fairly complicated" and that Norway as a small country depended on the EU for a long-term solution.

Chaffey added the Nordic-Baltic cooperation would not lead to an increasingly multi-speed Europe.

"This doesn't have to do with legal status or legislation. It has to do with something that's normal, usual in other areas as well, that some countries are moving a bit further ahead when it comes to the practical, the technological solutions."

Analysis

Suddenly, digital single market doesn't 'need' EU agency

EU digital commissioner Gabriel downplayed the rejection of the commission's plan for a strong EU telecommunications watchdog, highlighting that the elements of the digital single market are not set in stone.

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