How to make Digital Services Act future-proof?

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

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is a landmark legislative proposal to regulate digital content, goods and services.

It’s time to set a clear, fair and universal base law for the internet, writes Dita Charanzová. Balance is key, or we risk harming our economy. Fixing an issue for one sector in the DSA may tilt the playing field for everyone else. We need a horizontal framework, she argues.

Dita Charanzová is the vice president of the European Parliament, Renew Europe group coordinator on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and shadow rapporteur for the Digital Services Act (DSA). 

From culture to community to commerce, the internet provides us with so many things that Europeans cherish and which the European Union values and supports.

The best thing that the EU ever did for the internet was to set effective ground rules and then get out of the way, allowing competition and innovation to lead us to the incredible variety of uses which the digital world today provides us all.

Plans to refresh these ground rules through the Digital Services Act initiative is now well underway. This proposal aims to modernise the rules for platforms and other digital intermediaries and set the stage for the next phase of responsible digital growth.

Bolstering privacy and transparency while ensuring fair competition are laudable goals, but as the work on this Act gets underway, it is clear that many see them as an opportunity to advance unrelated agendas or to undermine rival companies, even if this was to the detriment of European businesses and citizens.

I have been in the European Parliament for long enough to know that major legislative packages that mash together too many different issues are doomed to fail. What the politics require, and what Europeans deserve, is a strong set of future-proof ground rules which we can adjust and adapt as technology and society evolve in the years ahead.

To use the Brussels jargon, the DSA must be horizontal in nature – that is they must provide the basic foundational law upon which more specific vertical regulations can be built. This is the only way that we can build a legislative framework that is robust, scalable and adaptable.

Trying to address in detail everything from counterfeit products to disinformation to terrorist content to child sexual abuse material is not a recipe for legislative precision, particularly when so many member states are developing their own overlapping legislation on these topics.

What is needed is a strong, principles-based vision upon which we can secure consensus. Unfortunately, what we see in the proposals to date, from some Member States and from recent Parliament reports, are a series of conflicting goals and policies that are very likely to damage rather than enhance Europe’s Digital Single Market.

This damage could take place on multiple levels.

On the geopolitical level, trying to turn the European internet into a ‘walled garden’ that shuts out international competition is a fool’s errand. Is the Chinese approach really the one we want to emulate?

Far better to heed the concerns of our American partners about the most blatantly protectionist elements of the package and to refrain from targeting a small set of US companies exclusively.

On the European level, a Digital Services Package that gets bogged down in Brussels in-fighting and competing visions will only encourage member states who are already inclined to make ‘solo runs’ in this area to pass their own legislation, leaving us with a complicated maze of legislation within the walled garden.

All of this is avoidable but we need to take a step back and think hard about what we are trying to achieve in two directions – firstly to ensure that this package builds on the policy achievements of the recent past such as the Platforms to Business, GDPR and Terrorist Content legislation, and secondly to ensure that this package provides the right foundation for the policy environment of the future.

A whole host of related initiatives are underway which will examine AI, the data economy and other issues. The DSA needs to support these rather than complicate them.

The internet is constantly evolving and unleashing rapid innovation. According to a Deloitte report, Central Europe has a number of fast growing digital companies in Europe with average growth of 1,460%.

Making DSA future proof is in the interest of our own future. Attempting to restrain this with rules targeting every possible issue would be a costly mistake. We need to set down common principles and then we need to let the market work.

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