EU must use 'all tools' at its disposal to tap digital potential

The digital single market is a fantastic opportunity for EU growth and competitiveness, but too many trade barriers remain, writes Roberta Metsola.

By Roberta Metsola

18 Mar 2015

Digital technology has permanently changed our lives, our business models and the political spectrum. It has facilitated regime changes and revolutions and as lawmakers, we must do everything we can so that the right conditions are in place for it to continue to grow, drive innovation and remain a huge source of employment and entrepreneurship in the EU.

As technology evolves, we must ensure that member states have the infrastructure, networks, incentives and regulations to allow the EU to keep in step with the rest of the world and so that our economies can enjoy growth for generations to come.

Manfred Weber, chair of parliament's EPP group, said the development of the digital sector and economy is a top priority. We will work hard to reach our aim of "creating an integrated and secure digital market with no borders, where we limit monopolies and set innovations free".

To that end, we must ensure that technology that has served to remove barriers to trade is also accessible to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Some SMEs are struggling to reap the full potential of the digital single market and have not yet realised the benefits of going digital. 

"As technology evolves, we must ensure that member states have the infrastructure, networks, incentives and regulations to allow the EU to keep in step with the rest of the world and so that our economies can enjoy growth for generations to come"

There are also several potential trade barriers getting in the way of businesses opening up to the online world, and these need to be addressed - SMEs need to be given the appropriate tools to compete and grow.

The EU has progressed and evolved, but many have questioned whether it has evolved fast enough. For example, cross-border mobile phone roaming prices remain artificially high and are a barrier to a proper functioning single market that allows innovation and jobs to flourish.

This is one barrier at least that we can and we should do something about. Roaming charges must end if Europe is to remain a truly competitive and attractive market. We must have a true pan-European market in this sector, and I hope that member states will have the courage to back parliament's proposals to end roaming charges by the end of this year.

The EU must encourage modern advances in technology. A 2013 edition of the European app economy report, issued by a market research firm, shows that when it comes to smartphone applications, or 'apps', the EU market is worth some 530,000 direct jobs and revenues of more than €10bn a year. This is a fantastic result considering the fact that this market is only a few years old.

I have taken up the issue of the digital single market with the commission, and in response to one of my parliamentary questions, European digital economy and society commissioner Günther Oettinger conceded that, "the union lacks a fully-functioning digital single market ". 

However, he did underline that the issue "is one of commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's three key priorities, and could generate €250bn of additional EU growth between 2014-2019, creating new jobs, notably for young job-seekers, and a vibrant knowledge-based society. The commission expects to provide, by the second quarter of 2015, a clear assessment of how the main obstacles may be addressed." Clearly, things are moving.

In addition, we must reduce bureaucracy - it is holding our companies back. Member states need to invest in new eGovernment platforms that allow citizens and businesses to save time and money. Over the past few years my country, Malta, has been one of the best performers in this area, and we cannot allow the momentum to slow down.

The potential for a proper digital single market to make people’s lives better and to generate employment and entrepreneurship is huge, but we must use all the tools at our disposal if this potential is to be fulfilled and if Europe is to become the world leader in this field that we all want it to be.

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