SPECIAL REPORT: Andrus Ansip, the European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, says he will launch a new digital strategy this Spring, including milestones and methods for monitoring progress effectively in the member states.
Before his appointment to the European Commission, Andrus Ansip served as Estonian finance minister, prime minister and as an MEP for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). He answered questions from EurActiv’s Jeremy Fleming.
How are you aiming to give focus to the organisation behind the Digital Single Market strategy, given that there are so many strands, including areas such as copyright, where you will not be taking the lead?
My role is to steer and coordinate the work of the Digital Single Market team. More than 10 Commissioners are involved. We had a first meeting in November and another one will take place later this month. Digital is everywhere, stretching into all aspects of our lives, so cooperation across DGs and avoiding “silos” is essential.
We are focusing on the real problems and obstacles, and looking at different policy options. Our work is divided into six themed areas, each involving the input and participation of several Commissioners.
As an example, one area of work will be about building trust and confidence. Both of these are vital if a Digital Single Market is to exist in Europe and function properly. Everyone needs to be at ease about problem-free accessing of services across borders, and as much at ease about doing this online as they are offline. In policy terms, this means moving further on consumer rights, data protection and cyber-security: a very wide range of cross-cutting issues.
Another relates to removing restrictions (and preventing new ones) and particularly to stop blocking of online consumers based on their location or residence. This will be about reforming copyright rules and getting rid of unjustified curbs on transfer and access to digital assets. I work very closely with Commissioner Oettinger on the modernisation of copyright rules.
Our team will come up with a fully developed strategy by May 2015, to be then implemented over the following months. We’ll be listening carefully along the way, consulting and discussing all the time to make sure that we get it right.
The Commission is not directly involved in the next stages of the data protection regulation which is now in the ambit of the parliament and member states until a general agreement can be reached clearing the way for trilogues. Can and should you be applying pressure for speeding up the process in the meantime?
The Data Protection regulation discussions can and should be finalised in 2015. This is one of the Commission’s top priorities. The European Council has also committed to the 2015 target. My colleague, Commissioner Jourová, is actively working towards this goal by engaging with the Council and the European Parliament.
There is now a positive dynamic in the Council and we hope for further progress under the Latvian Presidency, which has also announced the completion of the Data Protection Regulation as one of their main objectives. We believe a general approach can be reached in the Council during their Presidency. The Parliament has already voted on the Data Protection Regulation last March, supporting the Commission’s proposal, and is also waiting for the trilogues to start.
Is the terrorist atrocity at Charlie Hebdo likely to have any ramifications for the data protection regulation? Or on Passenger rights information?
As President Juncker said, our actions will be guided by reason and not by fear.
The proposed Data Protection Regulation does not cover the exchange of data for the purpose of counter-terrorism, therefore I do not expect any impact. The Commission has proposed a specific Data Protection Directive – for the police and criminal justice field, to take account of the specific needs and characteristics of this area.
Regarding Passenger Name Records or PNR, we are determined to work very closely with the European Parliament and the Member States to move ahead in 2015 on the proposal currently on the table since 2011.
We are not starting from zero. We already have PNR agreements with the US, Australia and Canada in place.
Has it yet been decided how the Grand Coalition for Jobs and Growth which Neelie Kroes started last year might be continued, and if so, from which department of the Commission?
The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs continues. As this is about new technologies, jobs, education, SMEs and industry, different actors within the European Commission join their forces with the national and regional level.
We need to get more young people, especially women, interested in digital careers and show them they can be challenging, creative and rewarding – and fun. Learning how to code at school is a great way to start. And this is essential for our economy: businesses face a critical shortfall of talented ICT experts.
There are key spectrum negotiations under way within the ambit of the International Telecommunications Union in Geneva this year with scoping exercises in the spring and to be followed by an attempt to get countries to free up spectrum later in the year. Will the EU be able to negotiate with one voice in that debate?
Yes, we need to speak with one voice. There is an ongoing process, with the help of the Radio Spectrum Policy Group, to prepare the conference.
Spectrum is not just a technical issue. It is the key raw material for the Digital Single Market. It can’t work properly without connectivity that is high quality, high speed and decently priced. Open spectrum is the basis for a digitally-enabled society and digital demand.
But the more this natural resource is divided, the less efficient it is. Ideally, EU countries should be working together much more on allocating spectrum. After all, radio waves know no borders!
How will you judge whether your Digital Single Market strategy is on track by the end of this year?
This will be part of the strategy itself: we will define milestones and how we can monitor progress effectively. We need to be ambitious and move swiftly. And we want to hear from the public whether we are on track; we will need a lot of support.
The strategy will be presented in May. I am confident that we will already achieve a lot in 2015 to create the functioning Digital Single Market that Europe needs.
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