Europe’s digital revolution

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eva_paunova.jpg [Eva Paunova]

The Digital Single Market is our chance to compete with the US on knowledge and innovation, writes Eva Paunova.

Eva Paunova is a Bulgarian MEP in the EPP group, and member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection.

Remember 2005 when Madonna sampled a 1979 hit song by ABBA? ‘Hung Up’, I believe it was called. She managed to score a chart topper by adding an electro beat to an already familiar melody, making it fit for dance floors and sweet-16 birthday parties the world over.

Fast forward ten years and replace Madonna with Vice-President Ansip: Introducing the European Digital Single Market Strategy will turn the EU’s single market into the dance floor of tomorrow. It will give Europe that extra edge to (finally) become the key player in the global digital economy.

Almost half a year ‘in development’ and a few ‘inevitable’ leaks later, the European Commission’s strategy on the Digital Single Market has finally been officially unveiled. A long awaited moment, no doubt, for critics to start picking it apart for perceived flaws in its data protection or copyright frameworks, to just name a few, while failing to see the bigger picture. If I were to describe the DSM with one word, it would be: Opportunity – our second chance to be the driving force of the digital revolution, and to compete with the US on knowledge and innovation.

The DSM strategy that was published today (6 May) is both extensive and ambitious; its many components essential and interconnected – the DSM would be untenable without their proper functioning and interoperability. It is proof, if any was ever needed, of how technology has become an integral part of our private and business lives.

To make full use of these new circumstances, coordinated action is needed at EU level. Obviously, the DSM is not and should not be about punishing certain companies. Citizens and businesses are the beneficiaries of the digital economy, not its collateral. Let me pinpoint three elements of the DSM strategy that I find particularly noteworthy:

  • E-Commerce. At a time when Europe is still recovering from the latest economic crisis, we expect the new strategy to cause some major ripples. The completion of the DSM is expected to add over EUR 415 billion annually to European GDP and create nearly 3.8 million new jobs. Turning these figures into reality would of course be amazing. Exploiting the full potential of cross-border e-commerce will be crucial to meet these targets. In Europe, making an online purchase from another Member State has always been a rather complicated process and, in many cases, outright impossible in a bizarre case of ‘what you see is what you cannot get’. This current situation is extremely damaging, especially for SMEs – only 7% of them operate across borders. I therefore welcome the Commission’s commitment to put forward an amended proposal by the end of 2015 for a harmonised set of rules and regulations for online purchases of digital content, and uphold EU-wide mandatory contractual rights for the domestic and cross-border sales of goods.
  • Cross-border parcel delivery, geo-blocking, and copyright. E-Commerce will never fulfil its potential without an efficient and cost-conscious parcel delivery service, doing away with unjustified geo-blocking and introducing a modernised copyright framework. The Commission has taken this into account and included proposals on all three in the final document. On parcel deliveries we can expect measures that will improve price transparency and enhance regulatory oversight. The removal of unjustified geo-blocking would mean that the practice of restricting access to websites, services or content on the basis of location will soon be a thing of the past. Finally, the new copyright framework should ensure cross-border access to legally purchased online services. Frankly, I live for the day when I’ll be able to watch House of Cards in my hometown Sofia, using my Belgian Netflix subscription.
  • E-government. But how can one expect businesses to go digital or be digital by default, if our own governments are nowhere near being able to join them? Without e-government the DSM would be like jamming a CD into a cassette-player, a good idea in a wholly unsuitable environment. One of the things I want to see in Europe is the ‘Once-Only’ principle in action. Right now, public administrations across the EU re-use information in only 48% of cases. If we were to implement this principle we could generate annual net savings of around EUR 5 billion by 2017. That is why I am looking forward to the launch of the ‘Once-Only’ principle pilot for businesses and citizens, which will be outlined in the new e-government action plan for 2015-2020. The plan foresees full interconnectivity for public registers by 2017 and a complete transition to e-procurement, followed by establishing a ‘Single Digital Gateway’ for member states.

The Commission’s proposal on the DSM has laid out its key priorities and I, as a Member of the European Parliament, am looking forward to working on the legislative proposals to follow. But what is more important is the clear awareness of EU Commissioners and officials that the world we live in is digital by default, that there is an on-going change in people’s mind-sets and that all of us need to start thinking digitally and embrace the fifth freedom of the EU single market. We need a holistic approach in order to achieve our goals and secure Europe’s place as a global economic leader. Most of all, Europe has to become a place where we all enjoy the highest quality of life, both offline and online.

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