Europe’s digital economy – everybody is talking about it. But what is actually happening across the region? Which priorities, policies and programmes are our neighbours looking at that you can learn from to make most of the digital opportunities at home?
Andrus Ansip, Vice President of the European Commission in charge of Digital Single Market, is one of the key people driving digital policies in and across Europe.
What are your top digital priorities for 2016?
We need to present all our initiatives for a Digital Single Market (DSM) by the end of this year. If not, we will lose more precious years to build the DSM. Europeans and businesses cannot afford battling more years with unjustified digital borders.
In December 2015, we presented the first two DSM proposals – the first, on aligning consumer digital contract rules around the EU; the second, on ensuring the portability of legally acquired content when Europeans travel across borders.
Guaranteeing cross-border portability is especially important given the forthcoming end of roaming surcharges: from mid-June 2017, you will pay the same price to use a mobile phone while travelling in the EU as you do at home. When travelling, want to be able to use their mobile devices to access content they have paid for. EU rules should allow them to do this.
Also, in February 2016 we adopted a proposal for radio frequencies in the 700 MHz band to be allocated for wireless broadband services. It will improve internet access for all Europeans and help develop cross-border applications.
The rest of the DSM proposals will come during 2016. First, we will have a package of measures for industry – including on cloud and an ICT standards plan – starting in early spring. We also look at giving e-government and interoperability a push. Then, an e-commerce package including a legislative proposal to tackle unjustified geo-blocking. It will not come as a surprise when I say that this subject is of particular importance to me; I firmly believe that people and businesses should not be restrained by barriers when they shop or sell online.
There will be a string of other important proposals in 2016 in key DSM work areas: more on reforming Europe’s telecoms laws, on cyber security and to promote the free flow of data, just to mention a few; more to come this year on copyright as well, as we set out in the strategy paper last month.
What successful digital development are you excited about?
Almost every day, a new digital development seems to appear – mostly to make our lives easier and more convenient. Mobile health is one of them that I am very excited about – and one that should be picked up even more quickly. I am also a big fan of e-learning tools. I am studying French on my tablet for the moment.
Digital applications like “mHealth” have the potential to transform healthcare and increase its quality and efficiency. By measuring vital signs like heart rate, blood glucose levels and body temperature. These apps allow people to adapt a disease or health condition they may have to their life – not adapt their life to their condition. But in Europe today, healthcare is a long way behind almost every other sector in implementing IT. There are several reasons for this – mainly, a lack of common European standards and also of technical compatibility between different applications, systems and devices which have to ‘talk’ to each other to work properly.
A key DSM objective is to coordinate digital standards across sectors and to provide full interoperability between systems and devices. As well as the safe, secure free flow of data and improved access to cross-border data.
We know that people have also concerns about health apps, like data protection and cybersecurity.
That is why we are helping to develop an industry-led code of conduct on privacy and security for mHealth apps to make sure that the data they collect is secure and that personal data is protected. Trust and security are essential for scaling up the use of digital innovation in areas like health. Everyone wins here, not just patients and people. For innovators and entrepreneurs, it will mean they can easily go to market across the EU with innovative digital products, devices and services.
First, however, the barriers preventing access to Europe’s unified digital space have to be removed.
Do you have a favourite ‘startup’, ‘disrupter’ or ‘scale up’?
Developments in Fintech are promising and I’m really interested in peer-to-peer money lending services such as TransferWise. There are so many to choose from. The EU is home to four of the world’s top 20 startup ecosystems – London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam. This vibrant and growing startup scene has witnessed 40 companies founded in the last 15 years now valued at more than $1 billion each. We also have a great track record for scaling businesses. There are 990 scale ups in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK that raised more than $23 billion, while there is a 174% investment surge in 2014.
But here is still a lot of work to be done to help European startups.
Startups need a Digital Single Market. I see too many startups going to the US because they cannot scale up here in Europe. Think about Spotify? Why do they have to scale up abroad? Because there are too many obstacles, too many different rules. Our European market is fragmented. Did you know that it costs around €9,000 for a company to adapt to the regulatory framework of another EU country? This should change, we want to help by cutting red tape for startups, small companies and entrepreneurs when they are trying to innovate and grow. And this is what we are doing with our DSM strategy.
We are also working on ways to attract more venture capital as part of the Single Market strategy and the Capital Markets Union. Here, the aim is to improve access to financing for all businesses across Europe and investment projects, startups in particular. We also know that for startups to flourish we must ensure the widest possible access to skills, education and talent.