Digital single market for the EU is launched – at last!

Digital Single Market

Nick Wood-Dow Deputy Chairman

The new Digital Single Market Strategy was launched yesterday by the European Commission at a press conference in Brussels. Commissioners Ansip and Oettinger presented the key points of the strategy, and took questions from journalists on the changes and their impact.

The Commissioners said they want more companies to be able to do business online across the Single European Market, and this strategy is the latest in a series of reforms to complete the picture. They said that since January, small businesses had been complaining that there were still barriers to growth, despite the frequent calls for the EU to become more business-friendly. So this new strategy had been designed to embrace the digital revolution, and to open up digital opportunities for people and businesses, using the power of the European Union’s Single Market – a jewel in the EU’s crown.

At present, online barriers mean that only 15% of citizens can shop online in another member state; only 7% of small firms sell across borders; and internet companies and start-ups cannot take full advantage of growth opportunities online. So the aim of the strategy is to move from 28 national markets to one single market, which could contribute 415 billion Euros per year to the EU economy.

The strategy is built on three pillars: better access for businesses to digital goods and services; creating the right conditions for digital networks, and maximising the growth potential of the digital economy.

Incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had set out in June 2014 to create the Digital Strategy, and twelve Commissioners were involved in its preparation and implementation. The Strategy will be presented to MEPs in Brussels on 12 May, and will then be discussed at forthcoming events with the business community in June and beyond.

The timing of the launch was interesting, being the day before the UK General Election, especially when a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU, or leave, was a key policy area dividing UK political parties throughout the election campaign. It may have been a move by President Juncker to re-assure the UK business community that the Commission wants the UK to stay, by creating such opportunities for E-Commerce, and by removing barriers to trade, to help businesses create jobs.

There are 16 key actions to be delivered by December 2016 – before a UK referendum!

So which sectors of business and the professions could benefit from these 16 European reforms:

  • Standardising EU rules on contracts and consumer protection when you buy online
  • Making parcel delivery cheaper: 62% of companies say parcel delivery costs are too high
  • Ending unjustified geo-blocking, eg for identical car rental costs in each member state
  • Launching an anti-trust competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector in the EU
  • Enforcing consumer rules by reviewing the Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation
  • Modernising copyright law, to improve people’s access to cultural content online
  • Reviewing the Satellite and Cable Directive to help broadcasters’ online transmissions
  • Simplifying VAT regimes with single electronic registration and payments
  • Overhauling EU telecoms rules to help with spectrum and high speed broadband
  • Reviewing the audio-visual media framework, adapting rules for content distribution
  • Tackling illegal content on the internet by extending competition law
  • Reviewing the e-Privacy Directive to re-inforce the security of personal data
  • Improving cyber security in member states via a new partnership with the industry
  • Proposing a European Cloud initiative covering certification of cloud services
  • Defining priorities for interoperability in e-health, transport and smart metering
  • Creating an e-government action plan to simplify business registration EU-wide

From these sixteen reforms set out in the strategy, there are built-in business opportunities for a wide variety of sectors. The strategy is designed to support businesses in sectors such as e-commerce, the law, international parcel delivery, broadcasters, car rental, arts and culture, accountants, telecoms, audio-visual content providers, data security and protection, health, transport, energy providers and company registration across 28 member states.

The Commissioners have set up a Digital Single Market Project Team, which will deliver these promises by working with MEPs and the Council of Ministers. The strategy will be on the agenda of the European Council or summit of Prime Ministers on 25 and 26 June, one of the last acts of the Latvian Presidency which ends on 30 June.

It is expected that national governments will support the strategy and the Luxembourg Presidency will continue the work when it takes over the EU from 1st July. Our Chelgate team will be working with clients on tactics designed to maximise these opportunities in our Brussels and Bucharest offices, as the strategy moves forward towards implementation.