Italy and Sweden want to remove obstacles and unlock the Digital Single Market’s full growth potential, write Mikael Damberg and Sandro Gozi.
The world has gone digital. In an increasingly connected world, the distance between nations, markets and individuals is shrinking. This digitisation enhances our vision of the single market, one economy without barriers. The question of how to adapt the single market to a modern digital economy continues to be a top priority for Europe, its tech companies and for more traditional industry. Sweden and Italy now join forces to promote a more competitive and digital Europe acting as a multiplier of opportunities and innovation for all our citizens.
An increasingly high proportion of European consumers regularly shop online. However, whilst e-commerce within Member States is popular, only a small share of e-commerce in the EU takes place across borders. In 2015, only around 15% of European consumers made cross-border purchases online. We need to work to remove obstacles in this area to allow companies to reach wider audiences, to grow and to innovate further.
Consumers should be able to access a wide range of goods and services safely and affordably, with clear information about their rights and the offerings available, and without any discrimination on the basis of nationality or place of residence. We are in a Single Market: let us get rid of obstacles and barriers and let us unlock all its growth potential.
Prevention of unjustified geoblocking, when a consumer’s access to commercial offers is denied or hindered due to her or his nationality or place of residence, should be one way forward. The Governments of Sweden and Italy look forward to seeing an ambitious legislative proposal on geoblocking this spring, acting to prevent this type of discrimination. This proposal needs to provide European e-traders with legal clarity on how cross-border consumers should be treated, and to facilitate consistent application.
Sweden and Italy believe the Commission is on the right track thus far and that Member States need to collaborate to boost cross-border e-commerce for the benefit of both European consumers and companies.
A related issue concerns the right of consumers to bring digital content that they subscribe to in their Member State of residence, such as streaming services for film or music, across borders when travelling in Europe. Today it is possible to use these services when travelling from Palermo up to Bolzano or from Kiruna down to Malmö but the consumer risks losing them when taking a take trip from Bolzano to Innsbruck or from Malmö to Copenhagen. This simply does not make sense in a true single market.
For the EU, exports of digitally deliverable services to the world represent 25 per cent of the value of exports. Business and trade are totally dependent on data flows. Data has to be moved to make trade happen, and to run companies efficiently. Cross-border data flows are needed to secure the potential of big data, cloud services and the internet of things, all technologies which allow companies to present consumers with better tailored offerings.
Free flowing data is not only essential for e-traders and digital start-up companies but also to more traditional industrial companies. While data must be able to flow freely to stimulate innovation and competitiveness, respect for proper protection of personal privacy must also be maintained.
A proposal from the Commission on free data flows is scheduled to come out this year. It is important that the proposal removes any unjustified limitations of the free flow of data in the single market. It should also take into account the need for free data flows in a wider international context. Openness to the rest of the world is crucial for European companies, facilitating trade, collaboration and innovation. It is of critical importance that, as global trade becomes increasingly digital, we do not slide into new forms of protectionism.
The European Digital Agenda set broadband coverage targets by 2020 for all the EU MS, i.e. that all citizens have access to internet speeds of 30Mbps and that 50% of the households subscribe to internet connections of 100Mbps. Italy and Sweden believe, considering the innovation speed we are facing today, that Europe should start to facilitate the diffusion and investments in future proof ultrafast networks able to provide services at 1Gbps. In this regard a key role will be also played by the R&D sector.
The collaborative economy presents promising new ways of doing business, identifying spare capacity to bring together supply and demand. New start-ups and new tech-companies are increasingly using these new platform-based collaborative business models, many of which offer consumers increased transparency and wider choice. In 2014, a report by PWC valued the global collaborative economy at approximately €11bn, predicted to increase to €287bn by 2025.
Sweden and Italy welcome the approach in the Commission’s Single Market Strategy on the collaborative economy. We should not hasten new legislation and any future action in this area should aim to facilitate innovative entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises and start-ups, and new and innovative business practices that provide opportunities for growth.
We have developed good practices in our countries which could contribute to the approach taken at EU-level.
Focus must be on clarifying how existing rules are applicable to companies in the collaborative economy: new entrepreneurs, more traditional providers and consumers all seek to understand their place in a changing market. As Member States have seen in broader discussions on platforms, diverse business models entail different benefits and risks for consumers, and need targeted assessment and response. In areas where new measures are deemed necessary, attention should be paid to specific regulatory gaps or legal uncertainties that might impede innovative business opportunities.
Rapid technological developments in the global digital economy offer us new opportunities for sustainable growth and competitiveness. Europe must create the best conditions for exploiting these opportunities, in order to strengthen the single market, create new jobs and improve conditions and offerings for consumers.
This is the union we want: a Union capable to deliver and able to make a real difference for all our citizens.
Minister for Enterprise and Innovation of Sweden
Secretary to the Prime Minister of Italy with responsibility for European Affairs and Policy