How can Europe become a global digital champion?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA) are EU major legislative proposals to regulate the digital field. [Shutterstock]

The global digital race is on and the EU is on the list of participants. Do we dare bet on winning? Three European Parliament lawmakers explain how Europe should proceed.

Andreas Schwab is the EPP Group’s IMCO Coordinator and EP rapporteur on Contestable and fair markets in the digital sector (Digital Markets Act). 

Arba Kokalari is the EPP Group’s shadow rapporteur on Single Market for Digital Services (Digital Services Act). 

Pablo Arias Echeverria is the deputy coordinator of EPP Group IMCO and Chair of the EPP IMCO Working Group on DSA/DMA.

Decades ago, Europe led the industrial revolution. At the turn of the century, during the technological revolution, we were a relevant global player. However, the large-scale digital world has developed elsewhere.

Today, we see American and Asian digital companies taking the lead. European technology companies are struggling to compete globally: difficult investment conditions and a fragmented EU market have not helped. The foreign digital giants are benefiting from our internal market and our infrastructures.

Therefore, the European Commission’s proposals on the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are more than welcome. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that digital tools are essential in our everyday lives and are only going to become more important in the future.

However, we want to stress that the principle of fairness of the market must play a leading role in the new rules. There must be a strong compelling signal that the EU is going to build a digital internal market in a way that each individual, every consumer, every EU business gets their rights respected.

So far, unfair competition has not been dealt with at the speed that digital markets need.

The proposed preventive mechanisms for the so-called ‘gatekeepers’ on our territory foresee a much faster process and sanctions for those who repeatedly fail to comply with our European standards.

These big companies are only getting bigger, but not necessarily getting better. They set the rules of the club, so if they don’t like you, you’re out. The new digital rules, such as the data-sharing obligation, must carefully set limits on this mischievous behaviour from the big platforms.

Until now, digital services companies have offered their services “for free”, when the reality is that the users have paid with their data, often without their knowledge. Our digital regulatory framework must be based on privacy and transparency and fairness.

To be clear, we need to focus on the real problems, meaning the bottlenecks created by big companies. This is the area where we are risking the level playing field that we want to have in the digital market.

It is also clear that we need to update the rules for content shared on social media and online market places to make them fit for the digital world of today and tomorrow. The guiding principle is that what is illegal offline has to be illegal online.

We must protect our users from abuse and unfair business practices. It is vital to stop the spread of illegal content on the internet, especially when it affects the most vulnerable citizens.

The new rules aim to create a safer digital ecosystem for everyone while ensuring protection of fundamental rights.

Safeguarding the freedom of expression will be key when shaping the new legislation. As online platforms have become the important forums for discussion, we cannot have a “ministry of truth” deciding which voices and opinions should be heard, whether it is located in Brussels or in Silicon Valley.

It is encouraging to see that the European Commission includes the platforms in third countries in the proposal. This at least partially closes a very big loophole in the previous legislation that enabled illegal products to enter the EU from online market places.

We want to further clarify and strengthen the provisions related to e-commerce to stop the influx of unsafe, illegal products into the EU. This must be done without creating disproportionate burdens for smaller online market places.

Over-regulation that hampers competition and technological development must be avoided. Administrative burdens such as reporting obligations should be limited to what is strictly proportionate to achieve the objectives of the legislation.

Small and medium-sized companies should be excluded from administrative burdens to the farthest extent possible, so that they have room to grow and innovate.

We will work hard for the new digital rules to strike the right balance. We don’t want to destroy big tech, but help them and businesses, in general, to innovate more, based on European values without falling into the trap of protectionism. Europe’s message must be “game over” to unfair trade practices.

We want to have an internal market that is thriving, increasingly innovative, with a level playing field. The new rules have to lead to a European ecosystem that is attractive for our entrepreneurs to begin a start-up with the aim of growing and creating a great digital project that is able to compete on a global level.

If we succeed, the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act can set a new global standard, putting Europe on the frontline in the global digital race.

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