A Digital Single Market for Europe: Commission Reveals Plans for Digital Revolution

Plans for a Digital Single Market in Europe have finally been unveiled, as The European Commission has announced their 16 initiatives for a digital revolution across the EU.

The plans for a Digital Single Market in Europe aim to unite the digital space across all of the 28 member countries within the EU; but what does it mean for businesses and consumers?

This will have a significant impact on many different industries; including online providers of goods and services, the entertainment and media industries, alongside telecoms and mobile carriers. The new plans consist of 16 initiatives which include overhauling telecommunications rules, ecommerce deliveries, cybersecurity, alongside harmonising tax and copyright regimes.

The policy areas or “pillars” revolve around three main themes:

  • Better online access to digital goods and services
    This requires rapidly removing key differences between the online and offline worlds to break down barriers to cross-border online activity.
  • An environment where digital networks and services can prosper
    This requires high-speed, secure and trustworthy infrastructure, supported by the right regulatory conditions for investment, fair competition and a level playing field.
  • Digital as a driver for growth
    This requires investment in ICT infrastructures such as cloud computing and Big Data; research and innovation to boost industrial competiveness; and an inclusive society, with better public services and better digital skills for citizens.

Digital Single Market Initiatives

Why announce a Digital Single Market for Europe now?

The European Commission is looking to jump-start growth in the rapidly evolving digital industries. The EU have shown that only 15% of EU citizens shop online in a different EU country, with a further 7% of small to medium sized companies within Europe offering their goods or services abroad. These new plans would look to tackle this, and encourage online European trade on a larger scale.

The European Commission are aiming to reduce any national barriers between all EU countries by updating copyright laws, putting an end to barriers such as geo-blocking (whereby businesses restrict access to websites in another country), and harmonise online regulations across all of Europe.

The Vice-President of the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip is quoted as saying the following:

Our Strategy is an ambitious and necessary programme of initiatives that target areas where the EU can make a real difference. They prepare Europe to reap the benefits of a digital future. They will give people and companies the online freedoms to profit fully from Europe’s huge internal market.

Creating a Digital Single Market

The Digital Single Market “Pillars” and 16 Initiatives

For a quick run-down of what each of the pillars and individual initiatives involve, read the summary below.

Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe

  • Rules to make cross-border ecommerce easier
  • Enforce consumer rules more rapidly and consistently through reviewing Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation
  • More efficient and affordable parcel delivery
  • End geo-blocking
  • Antitrust competition inquiring into ecommerce – identify potential competition concerns
  • More, more European copyright law
  • Review Satellite and Cable Directive
  • Reduce administrative burden businesses face from different VAT regimes

Create a level playing field for digital networks and services

  • Overhaul EU telecoms rules
  • Review the audiovisual media framework
  • Analyse the role of online platforms in the market
  • Reinforce trust and security in digital services and the handling of personal data
  • Propose a partnership with the industry on cybersecurity

Maximise the growth potential of the digital economy

  • Propose a European free flow of data initiative and a European Cloud initiative
  • Define priorities for standards and interoperability
  • Support an inclusive digital society, where citizens have skills to seize online opportunities

For more information, read a detailed description for the Digital Single Market here.

The criticism

Criticism has arisen, stating that Europe only wishes to promote its own internet industry, as new plans could see huge tech companies face punishment or certain restrictions. This would mean the likes of Google or Facebook could come under fire, as they are huge multi-national countries. However, many hope that the move will help boost Europe’s own economy, and spawn European rivals to giant companies such as Amazon or Google.

Whilst the new digital single market plans for Europe seem good for European countries, it seems it could come at the cost of limiting the global digital economy; and could be more isolationist instead of integrating Europe’s digital economy into the wider global market. If Europe were to develop its own technology standards or laws, then non-European countries could become alienated; whilst Europe could find itself alienated in the wider digital market.

There is also a concern that changes in copyright law and digital barriers could lead to more widespread online piracy of copyrighted material, especially prevalent within the film and TV industries. However, the new plans would not lead to the end of territorial licensing of goods as we know it, but instead would allow consumers to purchase their desired works anywhere within Europe.

What does this all mean?

One major part of these plans involves looking into abuses made by U.S. based web companies, including Google, as their power within the market is simply overwhelming. Amazon is also suspected to be restricting cross-border trade; which is another concern these plans would settle.

In essence, the European Commission is trying to fight back against huge U.S. web companies, and promote growth at home; however it’s often debatable whether the influence American companies have upon Europe is harmful at all.

The Digital Single Market project team is set to deliver on these actions by the end of 2016; so there’s a while to go yet. The European Commission is set to turn them into legislative proposals which will be debated and changed upon by the European Parliament, and individual national governments; so it’s not set in stone quite yet. Yet, as the European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker states, the new plans “lay the groundwork for Europe’s digital future.”

Whatever the case, the deal is going to largely benefit European businesses and consumers. By and large, it’s a great initiative, as it should provide much better access to digital goods and services for businesses and consumers, wherever they may be.

All in all, they are promoting a fairer and easier digital future, which is something most people will find beneficial, and will ensure businesses within Europe continue to prosper in the digital space.