EU must 'move fast' to ensure digital competitiveness

The new digital economy commissioner must ensure the EU follows its own digital economy blueprint, argues Hans- Olaf Henkel.

By Hans-Olaf Henkel

21 Nov 2014

Without question, the European commission's digital agenda is crucial not only for the success of Jean-Claude Juncker's presidency, but for Europe's competitiveness too. It is an issue of great personal interest. Having spent all of my professional life in the information technology industry, I have seen progression from punch card machines to the introduction of the personal computer and the internet. Information technology has crept from government and business administration into all aspects of life.

"Information technology has crept from government and business administration into all aspects of life"

While Europe remains strong in certain areas, such as automotive, machinery, tools, aerospace and luxury goods, it lags behind in the one technology which impacts all others more than anything else. I remember strong European hardware players such as Bull, ICL, Siemens and Olivetti. These are either gone or have changed their focus. At the same time, software is increasing in significance. European companies compete with dominant US players, such as Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Amazon and so on.

We must move and move fast. While in my opinion the commission does many things which could be done better by member states, this is an area in which the commission should take a stronger lead than in the past. That in my view means it must first decide what not to do. For instance, setting ambitious targets for the penetration of online purchases by country is in my opinion not only unnecessary, it is wrong. Apart from the fact that in the spirit of subsidiarity, such goals should be left to national governments, it is questionable for another reason. Has anybody ever examined what the consequences for small and medium sized businesses and the impact upon our city centres would be?

On the other hand, the commission should endeavour to do what it intended to do in the beginning: create a common market for our digital economy. If I send an SMS via a European telecom service provider, this is on a highly regulated basis. Does the same apply in the case of Whatsapp? Or take the fact that each country in the EU follows its own digital economy blueprint. The 'digitale agenda' in Germany has no connection with the 'programme numérique' in France. It is time for the new commissioner for the digital economy Günther Oettinger to bring together the different parts of the puzzle. If he does so with the same tenacity with which he applied in his previous job, I believe he can succeed.

 

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