29 January 2015

Members of the European Parliament and EIF Members met European Commission Vice President Ansip in the evening of Tuesday 20 January to hear his initial views on the challenges of a Digital Single Market and future initiatives. Ajit Jaokar, EIF Advisor, shares his observations and analysis from this meeting.

As the ex Prime Minister of Estonia – Andrus Ansip brings a great digital track record at a much needed time for Europe. 

Following are the key points of the talk followed by my analysis.

Key points

  • Vice-President Ansip started off by referring to the tragic events in France and that they reminded him of the global power and reach of the internet, and of how it can be abused - by some - as a vehicle to fuel hatred and violence.
  • Freedom of the media, including the internet, is a vital channel for the freedom of speech. Freedom of the Internet must be co-related to two aspects:  1) The protection of the internet as a forum for free expression and 2) The respect for the law, so the internet is not exploited for hatred and incitement.
  • Europe needs a reliable and safe internet, because every sector of society now uses digital tools and online networks.
  • We cannot get the best out of the opportunities the internet offers if we do not trust it, or if we are unable to connect properly with each other. If people do not, or cannot, trust e-services, they will never use them. “Trust is a must!”
  • Ansip’s vision for the Digital Agenda is: where goods, people, services and capital can move freely; where everyone can access and carry out online activities, across borders and with complete ease, safely and securely; where there is fair competition, regardless of nationality or place of residence, underpinned by a clear legal structure.
  • Unfortunately, we are still a long way from achieving that vision. In particular, Europe's rules on copyright need to be updated to make them fit for the digital age. Today's copyright rules vary a great deal around the EU's 28 countries. But there are many others:  for example the high cost of getting a parcel sent across EU borders.
  • Mr Ansip gave a very good example of buying an IP-protected tie in Paris. He could buy a Tie in Paris irrespective of where he came from. But the same did not apply to buying content online from Paris (which depends on where you order  came from)
  • Mr Ansip also said that he will present his strategy later during Latvia's EU Presidency. It will contain several thematic strands - two of these being:  Building trust and confidence, and removing restrictions.
  • However, none of Europe’s investment objectives can be achieved without a properly functioning single market in telecommunications. A single telecoms market is an essential building block of the Digital Single Market and it includes three main problem areas: 1) roaming charges, 2) inconsistent policies across the EU that mean we are not maximising our wireless capacity 3) a lack of net neutrality.

The speech in full is available here.
Photos from the event are available here.


Soon after he took office, Andrus Ansip conducted a tweet chat called #askansip. By all accounts, it was successful (and a first as I recollect). The themes reflected at the EIF event are consistent with the message from the Ansip about the direction of the Digital Agenda. 

The Digital agenda and Digital Single market is seen as the Super hero – who will fly in to solve the systemic problems in Europe. The payoff is huge for getting it right: High growth rates, Billions in unlocked value and 100s of new jobs.

But platforms are multi-sided markets. There is no "simple" regulatory fix. Not only should existing barriers be removed, we must also prevent new barriers from appearing. Youth meanwhile are leading the change at a faster pace than fragmented regulation. They are used to a predominantly online life.  Also, the growth and dynamism in the App economy and ICT sector provides a possible way out for youth unemployment. All of which are driven by the Digital Single Market.

The single market affects us all: Consumers (trying to buy),  Small businesses (trying to expand),  digital government  (e-invoices, e-procurement, e-signatures),  Trust and Security: (consumer rights, data protection rights and cyber-security), Access,  Sharing of ideas (Create open systems and remove barriers so as enable the free flow of ideas).

The good news is: All this already exists in Estonia. Apparently, Estonia is the only country in the world where people compete to file taxes! Thus, the future we desire is already here. To paraphrase William Gibson  -  It is just not uniformly distributed in Europe!



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