Digital or information technology has become an integral part of everyday life nowadays, blurring the boundaries of time and space. People work, learn, shop and have fun using digital solutions. Given the limitless nature of digital technology and the new opportunities it creates, the European Union seeks to make it an integral part of the everyday life of European citizens so that they derive maximum benefit from the advantages it offers.
Digital without borders
The European Union's fundamental values provide for the free movement of persons, capital, goods and services. By ensuring that all EU citizens have the same opportunities to buy and sell goods, for example, the European Single Market helps to enforce these values. However, whilst the borders to traditional trade in goods have come down within the European Union, the online market in goods and services is still not uniform across the EU and each of the 28 EU Member States has different rules governing activities in the digital environment.
The EU Member States have different rules for concluding contracts online, and on consumer and data protection, copyright, tax systems, and so on. This causes difficulties for buyers and sellers, resulting in unequal access to various online services and unequal opportunities regarding the development of digital services. Diverse legal systems make involvement in cross-border trade difficult, especially for small businesses and start-ups.
The objective of the Digital Single Market is therefore to create an environment in the EU Member States where consumers and businesses can easily access digital technology and operate online on an equal footing, regardless of their nationality or location. Legal frameworks (in the form of various rules) and investment in the development of digital infrastructure will shape the EU Digital Single Market.
340 billion euro benefit
The successful implementation and enforcement of the Digital Single Market in the EU will benefit both consumers and entrepreneurs who do business online, and EU citizens who face the challenges of taking full advantage of the digital environment.
Expected benefits of the Digital Single Market include:
- Guaranteed equal protection of consumer rights (e.g. the same warranty terms), regardless of the country in which the service provider is registered. This objective will be achieved by introducing uniform contractual terms for online purchases within the EU.
- An opportunity to feel secure that personal data stored online are protected, regardless of the country in which the data are stored and the clearly justified need for data entry using online services. It is planned to achieve this by introducing a unified data access and protection system in the EU.
- A wider range of online services will be available; simplified rules for small businesses will make it faster and easier to launch and expand digital business in any EU country.
- Reduced – and in the future zero – tariffs for travellers and more opportunities to use e-services (e.g. an e-signature) within the EU. This will be achieved by creating an orderly and single EU telecommunications market.
- The possibility to easily access high-speed internet anywhere in the EU. This will be done by stimulating investment in the expansion and improvement of broadband network coverage.
- Access to the online environment and less red tape for digital business will create new jobs, enhance the development of innovation and encourage the wider use of digital solutions in all sectors.
- Additional funding for information technology innovation, research and scientific projects and for e-skills development programmes.
- Aligned and beneficial copyright and licensing rules for all parties involved (content creators, distributors and consumers) which, for example, ensures the possibility of accessing online information displayed by all EU registered media in all EU countries.
According to European Commission estimates, the implementation of the Digital Single Market will result in cost savings, a wider market and total investment up to 2020 that will create some 340 billion euros worth of benefits for the EU economy.1
Towards the Digital Single Market
In the existing regulations, there are many areas where there has been no assessment of the digital aspect and of how the framework can be adapted to technological progress. In order to fully implement the Digital Single Market, it is important to review the compliance of EU legislation with the current requirements of the Digital Single Market.
To implement the Digital Single Market, initial efforts should focus on the following areas:
- equal EU telecommunications market rules for all participants;
- European data protection rules;
- copyright rules;
- consumer protection issues.
The European Commission identified these issues and related decisions as a priority at the start of its term in autumn 2014 and the Latvian Presidency of the EU Council is also working on this matter.
Digital Europe - a Latvian Presidency priority
The Latvian Presidency is working to reach agreement on the general data protection regulation and directive, and has already begun the next round of negotiations with the European Parliament on the Network and Information Security Directive, which is part of the EU's cyber security strategy. The Latvian Presidency has been entrusted with a mandate from the Council to negotiate with the European Parliament on roaming charges and open internet in the EU. Also, on 2 March this year, the Competitiveness Council adopted the Council Conclusions on the implementation of the EU single market, emphasising inter alia the importance of the Digital Single Market in creating new jobs and in strengthening global competitiveness.
The European Commission is due to come forward in May 2015 with a strategy for the implementation of the Digital Single Market. This strategy will include objectives and methods to evaluate progress and the effectiveness of implementation in the Member States. Initial discussions on the strategy are scheduled to take place during the Digital Assembly which will be held under the Latvian Presidency on 17-18 June in Riga.
The creation of the Digital Single Market is a complex process that affects almost every area of business activity represented in the EU and EU legislation, so implementation cannot be immediate. The EU is moving towards the goal that by 2020 every EU citizen should be able to take full advantage of the potential offered by the digital market on equal, safe and reliable terms.