A thriving European digital economy is one of the cornerstones of growth and employment in the EU. It is also fundamental to the modernisation of traditional industry. With estimated gains of 500 billion Euro in additional growth and a substantial boost to job creation in Europe, the EPP Group will work towards the completion of the Digital Single Market so as to deliver maximum benefits and added value to our citizens and businesses. In other words, we want to offer our citizens a larger variety of cross-border services, stimulate the creation of innovative online services at competitive prices and facilitate easier access for businesses, and in particular SMEs, to cross-border markets.
As the largest political group in the European Parliament, we are the driving force for developing this key project and meeting the expectations of European citizens and businesses by achieving a globally competitive, innovative and citizen-oriented Digital Single Market. In this respect, we want to translate, in a way that is smart, those rules that have been crucial in the classical (offline) business world into rules for the digital world. We should therefore focus on initiatives that will overcome legal fragmentation and allow companies to reap the benefits of the entire European market, giving consumers a wider choice.
We are convinced of the strong need for an improved and robust digital economy in Europe and that barriers between Member States must be removed to create a real ‘Digital Single Market’. This requires primarily fostering the trust of citizens and businesses in the digital economy. To this end, the swift adoption of a comprehensive yet realistic EU Data Protection framework that would increase Europe’s competitiveness, while delivering effective online privacy, and of the Network and Information Security Directive, is essential for the completion of the Digital Single Market. The EPP Group prioritises quality over speed in the ongoing discussion on data protection and cybersecurity to help our companies to embrace the potential of the data-driven economy.
The Digital Single Market boosts the growth of many European industries, like the creative industries sector, which is the most innovative, youth-oriented sector and which carries great potential for job creation in a fast-developing and changing environment. The Intellectual Property Rights framework offers protection for the value of the work through which innovation or cultural content was created; it also creates opportunities for future innovation and accessibility to knowledge. The synergy between these values implies the readjustment of the Intellectual Property Rights framework to take account of the new challenges brought about by modern technology. The framework should be balanced; it should enable users to access services while at the same time generating sufficient benefits to promote Europe’s cultural diversity.
For the Digital Single Market to be competitive and to deliver its benefits to citizens and businesses, market players need a reliable, fair, transparent and proportionate regulatory framework that allows them to compete fairly and equitably and to come up with innovative ideas and products without facing burdensome regulation. As the EPP Group, we therefore want to create a level playing field for operators. This means we want to adopt regulatory measures to tackle the current bottlenecks in the markets to achieve this aim, but at the same time we want to avoid asymmetric regulatory obligations that favour certain markets, businesses or operators over others and rather look at the concrete services that are provided.
We believe that the definition of actors and markets will be a core element to enabling fair competition. Our traditional telecom-centric views of the markets will need to be measured and reconsidered against developments towards new eco-systems of platforms that include application stores, operating systems, non-interoperable services, payment services, search engines, navigation systems, etc.
The EPP Group welcomes and embraces the development of new business models and services to consumers and businesses. For such innovation to happen, we consider fair, open, and non-discriminatory internet access (net neutrality) as a key tool and gate-opener towards offering new services without unfair restriction. Thus, net neutrality is a prerequisite for fair competition and market cohesion to the benefit of consumers and businesses. In this context, we aim at a timely finalisation of the Telecom Single Market proposal during 2015 and a review of the Electronic Communications Regulatory Framework, to reach balanced solutions to key challenges such as roaming, spectrum and net neutrality. Having been the leading political group in Parliament in all roaming breakthroughs, the EPP Group is committed to eliminating retail roaming charges for voice, data and SMS as soon as possible.
Infrastructure and industry
As the development of new digital services is picking up speed, we believe that the underlying infrastructure is another prerequisite for our competitiveness. The rapid development of mobile data traffic, expected to increase ten to fifteen times between 2014 and 2019, represents a challenge for investment in capacity, to allow for the highest speeds of tomorrow, and requires decisive allocation of spectrum to facilitate a leading place for Europe in the world. We are therefore firmly committed to addressing the conditions and procedures required for granting spectrum licenses for wireless broadband communications.
New app-based or accelerated services, including e-health, e-learning and business services, can only be used where we actually have fast and reliable access to the internet. We therefore want to ensure substantial investment in infrastructure, in particular in new broadband (fibre, 4G & 5G). Crucial sources of investment are the longer-term financing instruments in the Juncker plan for investment, that will target a range of sectors including transport, energy and the digital economy. As all citizens should be connected to the internet at the highest speed and the lowest possible costs, hybrid solutions must be takeninto account.
We also wish to use the potential of the Digital Single Market to stimulate social and generational inclusion and address the digital divide through the introduction of new models of interaction. This requires us to set and apply the regulatory framework in a way that makes private investment in infrastructure commercially attractive, including by rewarding the risks taken by investors and ensuring the best capacities and speed. This will ultimately be beneficial to the end-user also in remote areas.
We consider that open internet access also needs to be measured against this background and we have to critically assess regulatory restrictions on operators that keep them from taking business risks and investing in sparsely-populated or geographically-challenging areas. In this context, the EPP Group sees a key role for the EU State Aid regime: where private investment alone cannot be ensured, we need to enable citizens and businesses to participate in the Digital Single Market through other measures. We will have to reconsider the current application of state aid rules to enable a better roll-out of broadband and other solutions. Any web-based service is useless, and ultimately the social market economy is not achieved, if access to the internet with adequate speed and quality is not on offer to both consumers and businesses.
Beyond infrastructure, we want our European ICT industry to be globally competitive and we want framework conditions that encourage telecom operators and internet service providers to become pan-European. For this, we will need to create an eco-system, including an adequate regulatory environment that actively encourages innovation and innovative ideas, their fast integration in the market and the establishment and sales of these products and services as a quality brand worldwide. Cross-border cooperation between Member States, authorities and businesses, as well as joint investments, will play a key role in this. This is however not limited to the ICT industry. Rather, we need to actively strengthen and incentivise the digitalisation of other industries, including manufacturing (smart factories), the energy and transport sectors, the retail sector and SMEs, public services and education, as well as smart cities and the development of rural areas, to keep up in the global economy and make the EU an attractive place to invest, establish and run businesses.
Much of this will depend on how we support the development of European leaders in innovative services, such as cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things. The success of this strategy will also depend on the fostering of e-skills for citizens and the promotion of entrepreneurship in e-industries, and therefore on addressing the shortage of qualified ICT-skilled employees. We need highly-qualified workers and employees in the field of ICT. ICT literacy and skills should be promoted at every stage of education and vocational training. These digital developments also provide for a meaningful change in public administration, establishing much more effective, simplified and user-friendly e-administration.
Intellectual property rights, copyright and content
Businesses rely on the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR). Consequently, infringements of these rights on a commercial scale must be combatted by civil enforcement procedures to allow creators, inventors and other rights holders to reap the appropriate returns. Copyright is one area of IPR of fundamental importance for the creative industry, a sector which the European Union is striving to push forward in order to stimulate economic growth. The contribution of cultural and creative industries to job creation and economic growth in the EU is crucial. Therefore, the EPP Group calls for policies that allow digital technologies and creative industries to mutually grow in order to achieve real growth in Europe.
SMEs are key enablers of job creation and growth in the creative sector and for this reason their access to content must be facilitated. Copyright remains one of the most effective engines for the creation, production, dissemination and digitalisation of cultural content. We consider as a key priority the promotion of Europe’s cultural diversity by ensuring both a high level of copyright protection and the remuneration of authors, with a balanced approach as regards the objective of access to cultural goods and knowledge in the public interest.
In light of the above, the EPP Group advocates a copyright system that promotes the efficient functioning of value chains between creators, authors, producers, publishers, journalists, intermediaries, service providers and users. The objective should be to put in place flexible, business and consumer-friendly licensing schemes for copyrighted works. This approach should be guided by the need to guarantee appropriate remuneration for artists and creators, investors and producers. At the same time European researchers, cultural institutions, companies and consumers should benefit from more flexibility and simplicity in the use of copyrighted works. We promote a culture of respect for rights; consequently citizens should be made aware of the purposes of copyright in a way that is easily understandable.
The principle of ‘territoriality’ should be carefully analysed and the differences in Member-State laws, as well as the specifics of each sector, must be duly taken into account. Current exceptions within the existing legal framework should be reassessed, particularly in the areas of public policy objectives such as education or equal access for disabled people.
Consumers in the digital economy
We believe that consumers need to be at the heart of the Digital Single Market. With consumer spending accounting for approximately 56% of EU GDP, we need to enable consumers to benefit from the choices of a functioning and diversified Digital Single Market. This means that consumers cannot be discriminated against based on their geographic location, for example, and discriminatory practices ranging from geo-blocking to discriminatory offers in all sectors of online shopping and payments need to be addressed with the appropriate measures.
At the same time, we see net neutrality as an important measure for ensuring that consumers have open internet access and that equal types of traffic are treated equally. Against this backdrop, the EPP Group will work towards a framework that allows for the freedom of choice of each consumer and that makes room for innovative business models, as well as key services, including specialised services, such as e-health and driverless cars - as long as such services do not supersede open internet access.
We also see the need to look at the preparedness of our current regulatory consumer protection framework for the digital age. While important steps have been taken in recent year on online dispute resolution, other areas of e-commerce still need to be addressed to ensure a level playing field and help European e-commerce accelerate. The Common European Sales Law is an instrument with immense cross-border potential. The aim of the EPP Group has always been to boost e-commerce through the use of this optional tool and we look forward to moving the project forwards. This includes, on the one hand, ending practices such as IP tracking or the deliberate non-interoperability of systems restricting the choice of the consumer and, on the other hand, guaranteeing the portability of people’s digital lives.
Dismantling barriers to the cross-border development of e-commerce is of the utmost importance. This concerns, in particular, cross-border parcel delivery and VAT rules applicable to the sale of goods and services – which, due to their fragmentation and a lack of transparency, hamper cross-border e-commerce. In order to build a truly inclusive Digital Single Market, we therefore need to ensure the interoperability of systems, the use of common standards and that the same rules apply online as offline.
When designing this framework for better consumer protection, we, as the EPP Group, strongly believe that it has to be balanced with the needs and capacities of business, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises. Where disproportionate regulatory requirements force businesses out of the market, this ultimately also affects the freedom of choice of consumers. Therefore, the rights and obligations of consumers and businesses go hand-in-hand and must come to a fair balance for both sides. The Digital Economy is a win-win for both consumers and business.