After the saga of parliamentary hearings, the European parliament approved the new college of commissioners. Headed by new commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, the team will have a more horizontal structure, a more holistic approach and, as promised by Juncker in his pre-election speech, a more digital touch. Two experienced leaders will be in charge of building a truly digital union - Günther Oettinger, commissioner for the digital economy and society, and Andrus Ansip, vice-president in charge of coordinating the commission's work towards achieving a digital single market. However, the word 'digitisation' was echoed in hearings of every single commissioner-designate; and not without good reason. Whether we are talking about industry, energy, agriculture, transport or health, we all hope that founding the basis of the European economy on digital bytes will soon be reflected positively in terms of growth.
"The EU needs to move decisively towards a truly integrated European digital market"
The industry, research and energy (ITRE) committee's position has been very clear. The EU needs to move decisively towards a truly integrated European digital market. Therefore, we happily welcomed vice-president Ansip's objective to "make Europe a world leader in information and communication technology, with all the tools to succeed in the global digital economy and society". The digital market - seriously underdeveloped for the time being - is both one of the most promising and most challenging areas of progress. It could generate potential earnings of €260bn per year and create hundreds of thousands of new, attractive jobs, particularly for those hit hard by the crisis currently affecting European youth. The digital market is about advantages of scale within the European market, lowering costs and stimulating innovation for Europe's businesses.
Parliament views cooperation with the council and the commission as absolutely crucial. The ITRE committee intends to fully back Andrus Ansip's efforts in breaking down national silos in telecom regulations and management of the radio spectrum. However, he will also need to make sure that Europe has the necessary infrastructure to best benefit from the digital economy. Boosting both private and public investment will be a key responsibility of both digital commissioners. Günther Oettinger, who refers to infrastructure as “digital oxygen”, sets the long-term strategic goals to offer "legal certainty to the telecoms sector and create the right regulatory environment to foster investment and innovation". ITRE is more than ready to cooperate on this matter.
In his introductory speech, commissioner Oettinger made a commitment to present a new vision for Europe's digital future within the first six months of his mandate. Parliament believes it is time to build a connected single market based on ambitious legislation. We must set up a framework that will allow Europe to stay up to date with the latest technological advancements, as well as market and social developments. We need a long-term strategy that will bring immediate solutions to abolishing roaming fees, boosting further expansion of cloud computing, popularising borderless mobile data connectivity and simplifying access to information and content. At the same time, we must guarantee net neutrality and full personal data protection for European citizens - especially as TTIP negotiations with the US progress.
Building a digital agenda for Europe is certainly not an easy task, but the commissioners in charge have proven their commitment to the fight against a fragmented Europe. As prime minister of Estonia, Andrus Ansip engineered his country's entry into the eurozone just seven years after Estonia's EU accession. As the commissioner for energy throughout Barroso’s second term, commissioner Oettinger managed to provide a lifeline for a common EU energy market in just five years. It is extremely encouraging to see these two men join forces and work together towards a better connected Europe.
What appears to be a big challenge is also a big opportunity for moving forward in many additional ITRE priority areas, namely modern reindustrialisation, support for European small and medium sized enterprises, and lowering energy costs.