A new digital industrial policy designed to create a company equivalent to Airbus is amongst seven new priority focuses launched yesterday (18 December ) by Neelie Kroes, the EU commissioner for the Digital Agenda.
Describing herself as “a fighter”, the Dutch commissioner said the European Commission needed to be ambitious and drive through a digital plan over the next two years that could give hope to the increasing numbers of young Europeans who are unemployed.
“With figures like youth unemployment above 50% in Spain, we must realise it is not just a wake up call, it’s more than that. We should give them hope again and not be faced with a lost generation, that is what this is all about,” Kroes said.
Claiming the revamped digital agenda would increase European GDP by 5% over the next eight years, and add 3.8 million jobs “in the longer term”, Kroes also backed EU funding for broadband internet infrastructure.
Mixture of old and new initiatives
Some of the seven priorities in Kroes's revamped Digital Agenda reheat existing initiatives, whilst elsewhere Kroes has fleshed out some details on what can be expected in upcoming policy documents.
For example, Kroes announced that the broadband strategy package – anticipated for publication in February next year – will include ten actions including recommendations on stronger non-discriminatory network access and a new costing methodology for wholesale access to broadband networks.
The new cyber security strategy, also scheduled for publication in February, is included in the list of seven priorities.
Other focuses include the update of the EU’s copyright framework to account for digital works, the launch of a “grand coalition” between the public and private sector to promote jobs in the digital sector, and the promotion of cloud computing through greater public sector purchasing support.
Endorsement for Connecting Europe Facility
One of the seven focuses will include the fast track roll out of digital services designed to back up the 'Connecting Europe Facility', a proposed €50 billion funding plan for cross-border infrastructure in the telecoms, transport and energy sector.
In doing so, Kroes shores up attempts by the European Parliament to save the scheme from attempted budget cuts by EU member states, who were unable to agree on the EU's long-term budget at a summit in November.
The Connecting Europe facility was endorsed yesterday (18 December) by reports adopted in a joint meeting of the European Parliament's transport and industry committees.
In a new development, Kroes also announced that the Commission will launch a new industrial strategy for micro and nano-electronics. This chimes with a theme she developed in a speech last May, when she stated that Europe needs to develop an ‘Airbus of chips’.
Jitters over trade
The continent’s relative underperformance in the micro-chip, electronics and telecommunications equipment markets has caused concern within the EU executive.
Reflecting these concerns, trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht confirmed on Monday (17 December) that he will decide in the coming months whether to start politically sensitive investigations into trade practices by the Chinese network-equipment manufacturers Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp.
Such a move would have to be made on an ‘ex officio’ basis, since no formal complaints have been received against the companies.
Asked about the reports, Kroes said: “I know that De Gucht is a real liberal and I am in favour of no protectionism, it is not a matter of ring-fencing the market. We should be at the table [for negotiations] but it cannot come with ring-fencing, because otherwise we will be on the margins of the market.”
The EU recently held off a trade case against Huawei and ZTE amid claims by the US House of Representative that the two companies had "potential ties" to the Chinese government, which they claimed is "already known to be a major perpetrator of cyber-espionage." The two companies strongly denied the claims.
“We appreciate the Commission efforts to strongly refocus the Digital Agenda on key growth enhancing actions. These new key priorities should be consistently integrated in all EU policies,” said Markus Beyrer, director-general of BusinessEurope, the EU employer's organisation.
“Improving the regulatory environment for broadband investment is key for the development of the digital single market. At the same time, Europe needs to address remaining bottlenecks and legal fragmentation. We support the increased focus on cloud computing, having a huge growth potential especially for SMEs. Better public digital services are crucial for our economy and can encourage development and take-up of innovative solutions,” said Beyrer.
“It’s very personal for me because I am 71 years old and I do not have to do this job,” said Neelie Kroes, EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda. “I want to do it because I am inspired I do not want to say in 2014 that I am ashamed of not having done anything. I am determined to bring web entrepreneurship into the debate. The message is that we need to take risks and skip the word risk avoidance,” Kroes added.
"We are very closely following this and continuing our investigation. We will have to see in the coming weeks, if not months, what finally should be the decisive step we take," said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.
"We have already had discussions about the issue with the Chinese authorities, not directly about the companies themselves, but about the financial constructs that make us have doubts about the level playing field in this sector," de Gucht concluded.
Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei urged the European Commission to uphold free and fair competition as a cornerstone of EU law. “Huawei believes in free market and fair competition. We understand the global economic downturn is having a serious impact on our colleagues both in China and EU, but protectionism and state support cannot be the answer,” a spokeswoman for Huawei said.
"We opted to move to a real network; to transform the patchwork of roads, railways, ports, airports and canals into a unified European transport network, said the co-rapporteur on behalf of the European People’s Party on the development of the Trans-European Network, Greek MEP Georgios Koumoutsakos.
“We do hope that the absence of links between the different modes of transport and the missing cross-border sections due to a lack of interoperability will soon belong to the past and that we will be able to further develop the potential of the motorways of the sea. A strong push towards the completion of the Trans-European Network can be especially beneficial for Europe and each Member State in order to achieve sustainable growth in Europe, which is at the core of our concerns," Koumoutsakos concluded.
- February 2013: EU Commission set to publish new cyber security strategy and broadband policy proposals