Oettinger: IT sector needs new ‘generation of Shakespeares’

Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger hopes to speed up the process of harmonising the European digital market. [European Parliament/Flickr]

A meeting in Berlin between representatives from European startups and EU decision-makers stirred ignited debate over EU digital policies, with Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger speaking in support of net neutrality and tech-startups, while Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip called for other forms of IT promotion. EURACTIV Germany reports.

If Europe hopes to remain an economic leader, digital policy must be harmonised as soon as possible, EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger emphasised at the Startup Europe Summit in Berlin.

“We are a digital family. If we stand together and create one digital single market, we can win – with and against the United States, with and against Korea,” Oettinger said.

Last week, the Berlin summit brought together leading representatives from the European Commission, startup founders and key investors in the tech sector.

European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip and Digital Commissioner Oettinger both traveled to Germany’s capital for the occasion as well as former EU Digital Commissioner and Vice President Neelie Kroes.

The event focused on determining what support is needed to keep European startups on equal footing with their American competitors.

Enormous potential for growth

Still, Oettinger pointed out, the quest for tomorrow’s producers of hardware, software and mobility has not been fulfilled.

“We should promote startups because the digital sector is still unstable and mobile,” the Commissioner commented. A company that is a startup today could become a market leader in eight to ten years, he explained.

“We need a new generation of Shakespeares and Schillers,” Oettinger said.

>> Read: Oettinger playing ‘catch-up’ on EU digital infrastructure

Potential growth in the IT sector is huge and Europe’s app-economy is rapidly developing. In 2013, more than 1.8 million jobs were related to this sector, with this number expected to rise to 4.8 million by the year 2018. Ongoing revenues are estimated to be around €17.5 billion and could reach as much as €63 billion by 2018.

But Oettinger emphasised the campaign is not about creating Europe’s version of Google. Instead, the German politician said he hopes to promote domestic developments and support education and research in creative fields. The fragmented EU structure must urgently be repaired, he stated.

28 separate data protection laws and 28 regulators in Europe present the wrong path and a key reason why more and more companies would much rather go to the United States, Oettinger said.

Harmonisation within this year

Oettinger said he hopes to present a strategy for a European digital single market by May and put uniform data protection rules and common copyright laws into place within this year.

Meanwhile, the Digital Commissioner rejected the prospect of allowing some companies to enjoy faster internet connections at a price. Already at the Munich digital conference DLD in January, he rejected such “discrimination” and made it clear that “we need net neutrality”.

The latter issue of net neutrality remained a sticking point within the topic of digitalisation, something that was also apparent in Berlin.

Ansip supports two-speed Internet

While Oettinger has sided with most SMEs and the European Parliament, Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip said at the event on Thursday (12 February) that he supports a two-speed internet, as opposed to net neutrality.

“The potential for European startups is huge. But we could do more to make the most of it,” the Commissioner for the Digital Single Market said, with numbers indicating nine out of ten startups ultimately fail.

To change this, the Commission has created a row of EU-financed projects like the Start Europe Programme, which are meant to connect starter communities, promote entrepreneurial skills, facilitate cooperation and support entrepreneurship among women.

But Ansip did not give entrepreneurial representatives, gathered in Berlin, what they had hoped for: not only net neutrality but preferential treatment for startups.

Startups need protected zones

Meanwhile, Gesche Joost, the German government’s Internet ambassador, emphasised in Berlin on Friday that net neutrality is an important precondition for free access to the Internet and fair conditions for competition on the internet.

Tech-startups should receive a fair opportunity for growth and survival, indicated Joost, who has been advising the German Economic Affairs Ministry since last March on how to drive digital progress. To do this, a “protection zone” is needed for such companies, the Social Democratic politician emphasised.

But Joost also indicated a more fundamental issue, saying that “Germany does not yet have a digital agenda”. She said the latter is urgently needed to instruct all people on optimal use of the internet and thereby how to participate in the digital society.

Net Neutrality is a term referring to the freedom users have to access online services, such as Skype or Spotify, without experiencing a slower-than-usual connection.

The issue became widely known when national telecoms regulators began accusing Internet access providers, such as telecoms or cable firms, of slowing down traffic for services they do not provide.

Reasons to do so can be many. Net Neutrality paladins accuse ISPs of slowing free services to favour paid platforms. If this trend continued, the Internet would become something very different from the free environment it is nowadays, they claim.

Another accusation is that top ISPs in Europe happen to be big telecoms groups, which see in certain services, such as Skype, crucial competitors to their off-line offers. Obviously, making Skype and its competitors less functional would help push consumers back to traditional telephone subscriptions.

The industry says that the occasional slowing down of connections is a normal traffic management action aimed at ensuring the smooth functioning of the Internet.

It is also necessary to allow the growth of innovative and specialised (and also paid) services, such as data-intensive cloud applications, or video on demand.

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