Almost five years ago, the European commission said in its 'strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth', also known as Europe 2020, that although global demand for information and communication technologies is a market worth around €2000bn, only one quarter of this comes from European firms. Not much has changed since then. According to the commission, the digital economy in Europe is growing seven times faster than other sectors, however the EU's economy is lagging behind other economies in the field of information and communication technologies.
"The digital economy in Europe is growing seven times faster than other sectors, however the EU's economy is lagging behind other economies in the field of information and communication technologies"
Compared with the US, the digital economy in Europe has been slow to join the information (r)evolution. The new president of the commission Jean-Claude Juncker has therefore appointed the first EU commissioner responsible for the digital economy and society. Over the next five years, Günther Oettinger will face a set of Herculean tasks: creating a 'networked continent', introducing a high-quality, digital network infrastructure, harmonising regulations for telecommunications and the assignment of radio frequencies. He must also quickly conclude negotiations on network and information security, assisting the vice-president for the digital single market Andrus Ansip and justice, consumers and gender equality commissioner Vera Jourová in concluding negotiations on the general data protection regulation. Last but not least, there is the urgently needed reform of copyright law to make it fit for the digital era.
All these reforms and measures, which form just a small part of Oettinger's area of responsibility, are long overdue. Nothing can stop the digital revolution. Nowadays, every area of life is affected by digitisation – GPS systems, internet, online trading, smartphones, smart cities, even 'intelligent clothing' has found its way into our everyday lives.
Some member states have now awoken from their 'digital slumber'. Germany intends to give political support to the further digitisation of our industrial production and the entire value chain. 'Industry 4.0' is the key topic on the digital agenda. But what is the point of 28 individual EU member states working on national strategies? What is urgently needed is a European approach. The costs of a 'non-Europe' situation for the digital economy are around €340bn. This is the conclusion of a study carried out by the European parliament at the beginning of this year. In any case, the commission can count on the parliament as a strong partner. In the past, MEPs have always taken great care to ensure that ICT topics are continuously discussed in the form of own-initiative reports, oral and written questions, studies, workshops, opinions and resolutions, as well as by calling for the enhanced coordination of national measures to establish pan-European services and better promotion by the EU of research and development in ICT.
I support commissioner Oettinger's objective to promote innovations in the digital economy so that these innovations can be fully integrated across the whole of the EU in all kinds of products, processes and services. Over the coming five years, however, it will be important to put these ambitious plans into practice and establish sound conditions for the European economy in order to remain competitive against other industrial nations and become even more competitive.