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The European Digital Single Market: Are We Getting Any Closer?

by Pier Luigi Parcu
Area Director FSR Communications and Media

25 September 2014


One of the major targets of the 2020 Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE)  is the establishment of a Digital Single Market for services and entertainment. The DAE sets a number of ambitious goals, but despite the fact that in some areas the EU has been proactive and fast, today Europe appears to lag way behind some other areas of the world in deploying next generation networks, manufacturing innovative devices and applications and, in general, launching successful companies within the Internet ecosystem.

To react to these delays, a Connected Digital Single Market has been one of Mr Junker’s priorities since the very beginning of his campaign. Already in July, he called for the breaking down of national silos and the further harmonisation in key areas of rules and regulations, like electronic communications, spectrum management, data protection and copyright. 

A few days ago, Mr Junker revealed his future team; from the architecture he designed, we might be able to sense something about his approach to these issues. First, the fact that there will be two directorates dealing with the DAE confirms the tense attention dedicated to the topic, also considering that Mr Ansip, appointed to lead the Digital Single Market target, will also act as Vice-President of the Commission.  Second, the choice of Mr Oettinger, a German, as Commissioner for Digital Economy & Society might represent a move towards a more interventionist European approach on major global issues. In fact, Mr Oettinger will have the responsibility, together with the Justice Commissioner Mrs Jourová, to ensure the adoption of new data protection regulations and the revamp of the e-privacy Directive. There might be different priorities for the two Commissioners, but in order not to scatter energies and to put in place effective horizontal policies, a consistency and coordination of efforts should be ensured.  

In order to achieve the DAE goals, Mr Junker and his team will have to move their first steps in an environment characterised by conflicting forces and pressures. Just to mention two examples, while the quest for greater control over the Internet economy is mounting among governments, the European tech industry is worried that excessive regulation would further undermine its business freedom. Moreover, while the well-known economic/business model clash Telcos vs. OTT is still completely unresolved, there appears to be no clear European consensus even on the pursuit of basic principles like how to ensure to European citizens availability of an open and secure Internet.

The core of the problem is that, on the one side, economy and society developments indicate that national, and sometimes even regional, levels of policy intervention in the Internet era may be largely insufficient; and that, on the other side, global political actors and global powers are a scarce commodity. This means essentially two things: first, the European Commission should be able and brave to jump on the global scene and take the lead concerning future developments of markets’ and rights’ regulation and, second, any step the Commission will take has to be thought looking at the European digital single market not in isolation but as an integral part of a global Internet ecosystem.


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