EU Leaders Promised a Real Single Digital Market, But Not Now
Adelina Marini, 28 October 2013
"There is an urgent need for an integrated single digital and telecoms market, benefiting consumers and companies". This is written down in the conclusions of the heads of state and government of the EU member states after their October summit, dedicated entirely on the digital economy. However, nothing in the document suggests that there are firm commitments this need to be realised. The 28 leaders "welcome" the presentation of the Commission Connected Continent, which proposes, practically, a digital revolution on the single market and the creation of a real common market of communication and digital services, but they believed that before that a comprehensive exploration should be done "with a view to its timely adoption". It is not clear what exactly will be explored, but it all seems that the key is hidden in the distribution of spectrum.
The member states are of the opinion that the distribution of spectrum should be in line with the national competences in that area, while the European Commission proposes that it is exported at a European level and even the establishment of a European body to issue licenses and to have oversight of the process. There is no word about roaming which is an essential part of the Commission proposal nor there are binding deadlines, although it is explicitly stressed that everything should be done the digital market to be completed as it has long been agreed by 2015, which, as President Herman Van Rompuy specified, means as of January 1st 2015. The achievements of the summit on October 24-25 in Brussels is very disappointing against the backdrop of the ambition which the Commission and the European Council chief presented and which can be best illustrated by Mr Van Rompuy's address to the leaders at the opening of the summit:
"In this day-and-age, why should switching platforms and devices be a headache? Why should people still queue in an office for paperwork they could get online? Nowadays, even trains don't stop at borders, so entering a country should not mean a concert of beeping phones! At the same time, our citizens should not have to worry about misuse of their personal data, or fraud when shopping online". It is also disappointing against the backdrop of the forecasts that by 2015 900 000 "digital" jobs will be vacant. And the problem is not only that there are not sufficient skills in the ICT sector, but also social inclusion, as President Rompuy explained.
He pointed out that the leaders made three pledges which, however, are not bound with concrete deadlines. The first is to create a "real connected continent". This can happen by removing digital barriers, most visible in roaming fees or online shopping. To create a "real connected continent" investments in high-speed broadband will be boosted, 4G networks or cloud computing. The second pledge of the 28 leaders is to facilitate people to do things with a single click. Consumers should be able to easily and safely buy and sell online in another member state just like they do that at home. This includes the creation of e-governments which would reduce public administration spending by 20%.
And the third pledge is to work for building ICT skills. In this sense, quite telling is the following example from Croatia. If your child wants to study IT in a more professional way in Croatia, for instance, this is possible. After a thorough search you will discover the high school of your dreams which offers everything necessary to fill one of the 900 000 vacant jobs. The high school offers teaching of all of the latest and most modern languages and technologies for development, training in pre-press, graphic design and many other things. However, it is a private school. In the same time, last week in London a British-Croatian business forum took place which made it clear that the expectations of potential British investors are aimed precisely at this sector.
In their conclusions, though, the heads of state and government stress only that many European citizens and enterprises do not use efficiently the IT which creates more and more difficulties to fill the "digital" jobs. In 2011, the document says, in the EU there were 300 000 unfilled ICT jobs and unless something changed, in 2015 they will be three times more - 900 thousand. But how will this be prevented, what exactly will be changed, who will change it, will there be actions at EU level or this will continue to be a national policy, are all questions that do not have answers in the conclusions from Thursday and Friday.
"What I would like to tell you is that the discussion has shown that we all understand and agree on the urgency of action. Europe has been a global leader in this sector, but, let's be frank, Europe has lost ground to key competitors. We are simply not using the full opportunities offered by the digital economy", said, also with disappointment, President Barroso after the first day of the summit, dominated, as expected, by another episode from the eavesdropping scandal involving the US National Security Agency. A scandal that revealed that the EU as a union is not ready to withstand united the digital cold war that is unfolding globally. A scandal that also reveals the level of transatlantic trust. The leaders, however, will not do anything apart from relying on the established right after Edward Snowden's revelations working group between the EU and USA on issues related to data protection.
Data protection, for that matter, was another bold proposal by the Commission which, however, remains, for now, without concrete commitments. President Van Rompuy admitted that there is a serious problem with regard to the adoption of the package proposed by Vice President Viviane Reding. "It is a complex task not only related to the already difficult issues of protecting privacy but it also [has] an impact on business, so we have to study this carefully", Herman Van Rompuy said.
The "complexity" of the issue of digital economy was very well explained by Croatia's Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, who said before the summit: "By the end of 2015 the single digital market should be formed and realised, which means, in other words, that from the current many players on the digital market in telecommunications and mobile phone networks - from tens or even two hundred will remain several strong players. This would sound good if we were like America, but it sounds like a monopoly. So, we have initially a positive attitude, but some reserves as well ,because we would not like to lose some rights we have as a state. Specifically, some rights Croatia has should not in the future be transferred to the Commission, to make myself clear as much as possible. We decide about concessions and where taxes will be paid, etc. All these are issues that affect us as Croatia and other small nations. Here, we are not at equal footing with Germans, Britons or French", were Mr Milanovic's words.