The main reason why, back in 2013, Neelie Kroes felt compelled to put forward a set of EU-wide rules on net neutrality is that she could predict a wave of domestic regulations was bound to materialize sooner or later: a nightmarish scenario for a European commissioner who dreamed of building a telecom single market where “telcos can think European to compete globally”.
Alas, the kind of national fragmentation Mrs. Kroes ardently sought to prevent is about to be blessed by the EU law. Under a hard-fought settlement reached by the European Parliament and the Council in June, key elements of the first-ever EU bill on net neutrality will be adjudicated in the member states and their interpretation left up to national regulators. For example, domestic regulators will determine what is and what is not a “specialised service”.
This epilogue, which contradicts the original goal of the bill as it was conceived by Neelie Kroesand, has very little benefits for consumers and comes with a higher price. It may underdime the legal certainty and regulatory predictability (at EU level) that the telecoms sector badly needs to attract more investment. The truth is that a regime of “European net neutralities” is nearly as bad as not having a legislation at all.
The European Parliament is overwhelmingly supporting the European Commission’s plans to complete the Digital Single Market: it is now of utmost importance to act quickly, especially in areas such as frequencies harmonization, says Austrian MEP Paul Rübig. Member states, he argues, should not drag their feet. In the face of the dramatic increase of data usage or the predicted explosion of IoT technologies, if we do not forge an efficient, future-oriented digital single market, we are doomed to loose competitiveness. In order to prevent this scenario, we must also focus on addressing the shortfall in e-skills among Europeans and help SMEs embrace digital technology, concludes Mr. Rübig.
The Digital Single Market strategy lacks focus on digital inclusion and e-skills, says Scottish MEP Catherine Stihler. Nonetheless, she explains, the European Commission has made a step in the right direction but now the real challenge is to translate it into effective legislative measures. As digital is changing all the time and technology is running ahead of us, Europe’s push to unleash the potential of the digital single market ought to be future-proof, argues Mrs Stihler.
Photo credit: Josu Gonzalez
It would be wrong to assume that putting operators and Over-The-Top players under the same regulatory framework will provide the ultimate solution to the current imbalances. A true level playing field needs to be created on a fiscal level too, says Gérard Pogorel, Professor of Economics and Management at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications.
Digital Single Market strategy: Is the European Commission heading the right direction?
I believe yes, and I am very optimistic. The European Commission and the European Parliament seem very committed to opening new horizons. The priorities of the European Commission indicate that they consider the digital economy from a truly holistic perspective putting innovation, investment and growth at the forefront.
They show that Brussels is placing digital at the heart of the future European economy. Against this background, the main priority is to make the European Single Market attractive to investors.
We cannot talk about innovation or growth if the market is not attractive to investors. Telecoms and digital services regulation, as well as new legislation on data protection, are central elements of a consistent framework conducive to investment. I really think that it is with this in mind that the Commission is trying to re-organize things. This is very positive.
The Commission has signalled that it wants to create a level playing field in electronic communications by putting telcos and OTT under the same rules. Is it feasible?
It has to be done, the question is how. Any action should be considered from a global perspective. It would be wrong to take a purely defensive stance. It is important that the players that operate in Europe are put on the same level playing field, but it is even more important that they are encouraged to innovate and invest. They should all contribute financially. That is why a level playing field needs to be created on a fiscal level too. For the moment the fiscal situation in Europe is unbalanced.
We have, on the one hand, telecoms providers paying lots of taxes, say on radiospectrum. On the other hand, we have other players providing the same services, which pay far less taxes or no taxes at all. I believe that it would be wrong to think that putting these services under the same legal framework is the ultimate solution. Requiring OTT players to contribute to the universal service or the emergency number is not enough.
The important thing is that they contribute a fair share in terms of taxes and investments. That’s the main point. The playing field has not only to be leveled, it has also to be opened to innovation. We have to make sure the market is open to new entrants and innovators.
The European telecom sector is said to have an investment problem. What is your opinion?
The European telecoms sector is not attractive to investors for a series of reasons. The first reason is excessive fragmentation. Some people say that this is not important and that Europe can function with hundreds of operators. On the contrary, it is very important because size matters, for instance in terms of access to equipment or influence on the design of devices.
Big operators can enjoy a much more powerful position than small operators. That is why fragmentation is very detrimental to investment, and there should be some level of consolidation of the market. T he regulatory framework should be more oriented towards dynamic efficiency.
photo credits: Daniel Hansson
The more nation states try to build radio spectrum customized policies on a country-by-country basis, the slower the auctions happen, the later consumers get LTE, says Christopher Yoo.
The DSM strategy is a huge opportunity for Europe, he stresses, but it requires a genuine commitment by member states towards opening their borders: in the Internet economy refusing change is not an option and if you protect your domestic economy you’ll simply be left behind.
Europeans have to make sure that they do not cave in to people who oppose increased competition stemming from creating a pan-European digital market across borders, adds Professor Yoo. This change can be very disruptive but it will ultimately yield tremendous benefits.
photo credits: drew baker
The Commission is expecting European leaders to give strong political support to the DSM strategy, says spokesperson for Digital Single Market Nathalie Vandystadt, signalling that all the actions listed in the initiative have been called upon by a vast majority of Members States and MEPs.
What about the criticism that the strategy is lacking in both grand vision and on practical implementation? This is only the start of a long journey, she replies, and the commission is already working on concrete proposals. We cannot say the strategy is not ambitious enough – It is realistic.
I do want the Juncker Plan to be a success, yet I am not sure that what investors need more urgently is the European Fund for Strategic Investments but rather a regulatory framework conducive to their activity, says MEP Dominique Riquet.
The Juncker plan is still raising many questions with respect to its effectiveness. What’s your view?
Like the vast majority in the Parliament, I am very supportive of the idea of setting up an investment plan at EU level. President Juncker’s proposal goes in the right direction by targeting areas that are strategic for growth and by trying to attract more private funds.
At the same time, given the estimated investment needed in trans-European networks in the fields of transport, energy and telecoms until 2020 (around 1000 billion), the objective of raising 315 billion of investments may seem a bit limited.
For telecoms, the investment gap mainly concerns the deployment of broadband in rural areas as the private sector usually takes charge of other kinds of investment. Another area of concern with this plan is the financing of the EU guarantee fund.
Why taking money in programmes already dedicated to investment, which are fully operational and already foresee the possibility to use innovative financial instruments?
Finally, I am not sure that what investors need more urgently is the European Fund for Strategic Investments but rather a regulatory framework conducive to their activity. Trust is the key. However, I do want the Juncker Plan to be a success and we are currently working very hard on achieving this.
Will the so-called leverage effect work, notably in helping Europe meet its ambitious targets for ultra-fast broadband?
The leverage effect targeted by the Commission with the EFSI is 15, which is not unrealistic. We also know that there are dozens of trillions available in the private sector, within pension funds or insurance companies for example, and these liquid assets are insufficiently redirected to real economy.
The leverage effect will depend on the EFSI capacity to attract contributions from other actors and the cooperation between the EIB and national promotional banks will be crucial in that respect, together with the efforts in improving the regulatory environment.
Changing rules all the time, having a fragmented market where taxation and public procurement vary from one country to another clearly acts as a deterrent for potential investors.
The Digital Single Market Strategy presented Wednesday by the Commission is a crucial step in improving the EU competitiveness in this sector but it remains to be seen whether Member States will embrace the same ambition and have enough political will to put an end to all kind of obstacles.
Do you see the digital economy benefitting from the plan as touted by the European Commission? The proposal to divert funds from Horizon 2020 and the CEF to the EFSI, which the European Parliament has rejected, seems to prove the contrary.
The potential of the digital economy is huge and more should be done to reap its benefits. We do not want to choose between Horizon 2020, the Connecting Europe Facility and the EFSI as all are needed and this is why we have suggested to rather use unallocated resources such as margins and surpluses to finance the EFSI guarantee fund.
Just for 2014, the surpluses which remained this year were 1,4 billion, an amount which largely covers what we are supposed to put for 2015 in the EU guarantee fund. However, the surpluses currently serve to reduce Member States contributions to the EU budget which is why it is so difficult to use them for the EFSI.
As regards the EFSI, innovation and digital economy have clearly been identified as an investment area and there are a lot of possibilities : equipment of universities, support to SMEs in this sector, promotion of connected vehicles and of smart grids in order to reduce our energy consumption are just a few examples.
Negotiations between the EP and the Council have just started and they seem rather tense. What to expect?
There are a lot of divergences between the European Parliament and the Council but the main issue is by far the way we will finance the EU guarantee fund.
We are not protecting “our money” as I can hear from time to time. The Parliament is simply doing its job when defending programmes that have been democratically adopted just two years ago after a wide consultation, and I must say that in six years I have rarely seen our assembly being so united.
We are having the third trilogue today and, to be honest, the discussions have been quite difficult so far. If we are to find an agreement before the summer break as the Commission wants, each side of the negotiation will have to make efforts.
Dominique Riquet (born in 1946) holds a degree in general medicine and a degree in urological surgery. Elected at the European Parliament in 2014 for a second mandate, he is the first Vice-Chair of the transport and tourism committee and a member of the industry, research and energy committee. As a member of the UDI (Union des Démocrates et Indépendants) in France, he joined the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) within the European Parliament. Particularly involved in infrastructure financing, he was rapporteur on the Connecting Europe Facility and he recently created an intergroup on long-term investment. Prior to that, he was Regional Councillor for the Nord Pas-de-Calais region (1992-2009) and he also served for ten years as the mayor of Valenciennes (2002-2012). Follow him on: @
photo credit: European Parliament
Most Brussels’ insiders didn’t blink an eye when in mid-April draft copies of the upcoming Digital Single Market strategy began circulating among tech lobbyists eventually landing on the desk of a few reporters. Such leaks are commonplace in the “EU bubble”, even more so when it comes to digital-related legislative initiatives.
In fact, during the former European Commission’s term not a single bill drafted under the auspices of the then EU digital chief Neelie Kroes escaped the fate of being leaked weeks (and at times even months) before its official presentation. No wonder that the EU community abounds with stories of interns or civil servants who were punished after being caught “smuggling” internal documents out the Commission.
The DSM leak is thus hardly a surprise. But it calls into question the Commission ability or willingness to protect the confidentiality of its work. Worse: several of these leaks are said to be orchestrated on purpose by commissioners’ cabinets.
True, the impact of this practice should not be overestimated. Yet it highlights a clear deontological problem within the ranks of the Commission that should be addressed as soon as possible.
If we want the European digital sector to thrive we should focus more on promoting a cultural change than on regulatory intervention, argues MEP Kaja Kallas.
What should be the right regulatory conditions to help the European digital companies emerge and become global leaders?
I feel that very often less is more. If we think about all the possibilities we have today and all the new business models that have emerged, then we should keep in mind that these have been created in a rather innovation-friendly regulatory framework in that field. We should therefore be very careful before introducing new regulations.
What we should however promoting is a change in the way we treat failure in Europe – not through regulation but through cultural change- failure is not a bad thing, it shows that at least you tried. If more people are not afraid to fail, then more people will be encouraged to start something new.
The growth of the app economy is certainly creating jobs. However, in the eyes of its critics it may, by disrupting traditional business models, be also destroying jobs. How would you respond to these concerns?
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have written a very good book called “Why nations fail?” In that book they show through different historical examples how people have always tried to protect the traditional sectors whereas in order to be successful you should embrace creative destruction.
It means that yes, old jobs will disappear, but new jobs will emerge. You can fight against the knitting machine but if it has already been invented, it will come sooner or later and the craftsmen will have to find new jobs.
How the European Union should address the “threats” the app economy poses on trust and security?
Trust and security are important pillars of the internet economy; service providers have understood this as trust is at the heart of their business model which means that the market already regulates this to some extent. However, from the policy makers side we have to ensure that the right framework is in place for people to trust service providers with their data.
This means that it must be clear that the person is owner of his or her own data and he/ she can decide who can access and use this data.
In November you voiced skepticism about the European Parliament’s resolution requiring the unbundling of search engines. Why going down this way is a bad idea?
I think the debate was on wrong grounds – it was about one company in particular. My statement was that it is wrong for the parliament to start intervening in the investigation procedures that the Commission is already conducting.
The Commission has the right to demand unbundling if it finds that the search engine is an essential facility and abuses its dominant position.
The Commission has the tools to deal with this and the Parliament should not make it political.
How do you see the debate about the so-called principle of “platform neutrality”?
It is a very wide question. In general it seems to me that there is a push from some stakeholders to shift the discussion from net neutrality to platform neutrality that would only be applicable to one US Company. I do not think this is right as we might end up harming our European companies even more.
There are many layers to this discussion. First, the use of one platform does not necessarily preclude the use of another similar platform. If one is more user-friendly than the other one, people will change from one to another, as the switching costs are often quite low.
In addition, due to low barriers to entry and the limited cost of creating internet platforms, new ones can emerge quickly.
On the other hand, some platforms might have network effects that can make market entry more difficult for the newcomers.
Thirdly, many of the business models of internet platforms are built on unneutrality.
photo credits: Johan Larsson
The European Commission has signalled that it will be going after those barriers currently limiting investments in broadband networks. This is the right level of ambition, argues ETNO chairman Steven Tas.
One of the new European Commission’s priorities is “giving more ambition to the ongoing reform of telecoms rules”. What are ETNO expectations?
I think that it’s very important to look at the programmatic milestones of the new Commission, especially at the mission letter of Commissioner Oettinger and at the Investment Plan presented last December.
Both documents indicate that the Commission will be going after those barriers currently limiting investments in broadband networks. This is the right level of ambition, and we think the first, urgent step is to look into the Review of the 2009 Telecoms Framework.
The coming “digital single market” package will focus on copyright, e-commerce or online services. What do you think?
We agree that reforming copyright, as well as looking at demand-sensitive aspects like e-commerce and stimulus to online services is pivotal. Investments without real digitalization of society are not enough to create prosperity.
In our view, any policy plan to create a Digital single market needs to prioritize items like spectrum harmonization measures and the review of the current access regulation.
Do you think the Juncker’s investment plan live up to its ambitions? Will it manage to leverage funding from the sector?
We agree with Juncker and Oettinger that the objective should be to maximize private investments. For this reason, ETNO looks with huge interest at one of the main pillars of this plan: removing regulation that hampers investment and that is outdated. We really need to reduce the complexity of our European regulatory framework. That comes at no cost for public budgets, and it can be a really smart way to stimulate broadband deployment. Let’s remember that having the best networks is not a stand-alone objective: it is the pre-requisite to building a competitive Europe”.
Some Member States, such as Germany and France, are now echoing your longstanding pleas for more equal treatment with Internet giants, both on regulatory and competition terms. How the European Commission should respond?
The European Commission has announced a study on the impact of new online services on digital markets. At the same time, there is a push from Member States to consider a public consultation on basically the same topics.
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Changes in markets reality and consumers’ behaviour need to be at the core of the upcoming digital policies. This will unleash the innovation and investment potential of our Continent”.
How do you see the on-going debate on Net Neutrality and on the end of roaming charges, especially in light of the Council agreement on the Connected Continent package?
Developing Net Neutrality rules means regulating the internet. This is a serious matter. If we believe that the internet should be regulated, I think we are better off with a light touch approach, based on simple principles that do not interfere with innovation and do not depress investments.
On roaming, I think we need first of all to admit that the industry was in the past not fast enough to respond to concerns. But today we have a variety of offers matching consumers’ increasing quest for mobility. So the market is responding well now. It is also important to have regulatory certainly and consistency with the previous roaming regulation that was introduced only recently.
By the way, given that most Connected Continent landmark proposals have been dropped by the Council, do you believe that it should be envisaged to withdraw the proposal and start the work from the scratch?
The power of initiating or withdrawing a legislative proposal lies with the Commission. From an industry perspective, as the debate on the Regulation approaches its final stage, ETNO believes there is an even stronger sense of urgency to reforming the current set of digital policies and regulation. We need to do more, and faster, to remove barriers to investment. We must not miss the momentum of achieving a stronger digital Europe.
photo credits: Natan Vance
The European Union needs to have common privacy standards in place as soon as possible. For this to happen, member states need to show far more engagement, says German MEP Jan Albrecht
More than three years on from the publication of the first draft proposal, the Data Protection Regulation is still under negotiation. However there are doubts over whether it can be agreed before the end of 2015. What is your view?
I think that for the legislation to be finalized by the end of this year member states need to show far more engagement. Negotiations in the Council are advancing at a slow pace due to simple issues and disagreements popping up over and over again, thus postponing the whole process.
So ultimately it’s a question of political will. If the Council does want to achieve an agreement, it can do it very quickly. The European Parliament has voted its position in October 2013: since then we are waiting member states to reach a deal in order to start the trilogue.
Speaking of the trilogue, how do you see the future negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament?
First of all, it will be key that the Council delivers on high standards for the protection of privacy. However, looking at the ongoing talks among member states some of the provisions of the proposal already run the risk of being diluted compared to the protection levels set in the 1995 directive.
This is a red line for the European Parliament: we won’t accept lower standards than the 1995 directive. If member states want to get on a common ground with the European Parliament they need to agree on stronger individual rights and sanctions.
Given that the regulation will have a two-year transitional period before it applies, don’t you fear that the technological evolutions will render the text obsolete by the time it enters into force?
I do not think that the text voted by the European Parliament will be outdated soon because it already encompasses all the actual developments and it is as much technology-neutral as possible.
But it’s true that if the Council doesn’t find an agreement anytime soon and negotiations stretch into 2016, adding the transitional period, it means that there are at least three years left before Europe has a single data protection standard. This equates to three more years of losses and struggle for the European IT companies in comparison with US Internet giants. I do not think that we can afford this to happen. We really have to hurry up!
However critics of the regulation lament that the regulation will result into more burden placed on companies.
On the contrary, the European Parliament has included in the text provisions that protect all the companies from too much burden – for example we excluded smaller companies from some duties of documentation and information.
Moreover, the new regulation would reduce bureaucracy by replacing 28 different national regimes with just one. The benefits for SMEs will clearly outstrip the potential burden which I do not think will be higher than today.
Is it possible to restore trust in transatlantic data flows and on which basis?
First, the European Union and its single market need to have common privacy standards in place in order to ensure legal certainty for consumers, citizens and enterprises in Europe.
Only then, we can start negotiating with the US on common transatlantic standards, i.e. the application of certain basic data protection rules. In short, that will be only possible if we pass the data protection regulation as quickly as possible.
How can we negotiate with the US on common standards and create a transatlantic market if Europe has not a single standard itself? As long as we do not achieve this objective it won’t be possible to negotiate on privacy standards in the framework of TTIP.
In addition, the US has also to do its own homework. New legislation on data protection recently announced by President Obama is a starting point and the first requirement for any further negotiation. Without such legislation in place it is almost impossible for the European Union to agree on common privacy standards.
What’s wrong with the EU’s plans for the passenger name record (PNR) system? Why the European Parliament is opposing the proposal?
In the last years nearly every terrorist attack we have seen involved attackers who were already known by the authorities as potential or suspicious terrorists. However, we have focused on collecting personal data of citizens – for instance through the data retention directive – who are completely not suspicious or risky.
Collecting just more hay if you are looking for a needle in a haystack is the wrong approach to improve security. The right way would be to spend the money that would go to the PNR system (hundreds of millions of euro) into better equipment for police and law enforcement authorities in Europe and into improving coordination and exchange of information on suspicious persons. This is what we ask.
A no less important issue is that last year the European Court of Justice ruled that retention of data without any link to suspicious or risk is not legal and proportionate. Therefore, we should not vote laws that we know are illegal.
photo credits: KylaBorg
Alessandra Poggiani, the director general of the Agency for Digital Italy (Agid), tells The Digital Post how the government is working towards the objectives of the Digital Agenda for Europe. “Embracing the digital economy is not only a question of growth and new opportunities for Italy. It is also a question of democracy”, says Ms Poggiani.
phot credits: Giuseppe Moscato
There is a need for leadership on the highest political levels to curb a worrying trend towards limiting the open internet, seeking to use internet for intelligence gathering, or for repressing dissent, argues Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake
2015 seems to be a key year for a long-awaited (and long discussed) “reform” of Internet Governance. What are your predictions?
Indeed it will be an important year for internet governance. However, for me internet governance is more than just the scope of responsibilities and procedures in international organizations such as ICANN, WCIT and the IGF.
The broad goals of ensuring the internet remains open and that people´s human rights and fundamental freedoms apply also online, is influenced by decisions made by states and companies every day.
I see a worrying trend towards limiting the open internet, seeking to use internet for intelligence gathering, or for repressing dissent. There is a need for leadership on the highest political levels to curb this trend.
What should be the role of the EU?
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This means diplomats from the European External Action Service, and Ministers and diplomats from Member States to better understand technology and how it works, and most importantly to push an ambitious agenda.
Civil society organizations and experts can help ensure there is sufficient knowledge, and connection to the various stakeholders.
Is Europe contributing enough to the global debate on Internet Governance?
I believe the EU can and should do more in showing leadership. After the credibility of the United States was hurt by the NSA revelations, the internet freedom agenda should be adopted by the EU, and given more meaning.
We have a historic sense of protecting people from an over reaching state, and need to show leadership in human rights online globally, as we have done with a human rights agenda in the past.
We should work with the US to restore trust and to work along a shared agenda. There are plenty of developing economies that we may consider as ´swing states´ in terms of seeking to pursue top-down governance, or to choose a forward looking internet governance agenda that puts human rights online in the centre.
What initiatives do you expect from the new European Commission?
I will continue to push for better coordination between different Commissioners, and with Member States, in developing a future proof en ambitious internet governance agenda.
Do you think the way ICANN is adjusting its governance is responding to current concerns about Internet Governance?
We have to give it a fair chance. It would be a real improvement if the multi-stakeholder model actually succeeds and further develops. Dominance of any one significant player should be avoided, and that included the United States.
At the same time, fundamental principles and values must be ensured. I will observe and evaluate the impact with great interest, also as a member of the Global Commission on Internet Governance.
How to reconcile the tension between current IG, led by nongovernmental players, and increasing demands for a stronger role for governments? How big is the risk that governments, notably from non-liberal (or undemocratic) countries, could use the current transition to take over more powers over the Internet?
Actually, governments do not depend on internet governance platforms. They can adopt laws without input from multiple stakeholders, while impacting many of them. We see this happening every day. What some of these governments with repressive agenda´s seek, is legitimacy to do what they are already doing.
The transition to more global governance was needed, and should be considered an opportunity to create a more shared responsibility globally. Given the strong interlinkage between economic interests and the open internet, we must seek…
[Tweet “…to convince as many people as possible that repression and fragmentation is a boomerang.”]
I also worry about the role of major companies and significant market players, that put commercial interests above all else, and at the expense of the open internet and its users.
We must ensure that as the internet is to a large extent dependent on private actors, that there is sufficient oversight. I would ideally like to see an internet governance system based on democratic values globally.
photo credits: Dennis Skley / www.marietjeschaake.eu
This could be a critical year for the governance of the Internet. A plan for transferring the US stewardship of the IANA functions to the global community is expected to come to life by next September. Post-WCIT tensions over the role of countries in managing the web may come to a showdown at the WSIS+10 high-level conference to be held next December in New York.
And while the UN General Assembly is likely to extend the mandate of the IGF, an essential platform for policy dialogue, many other Internet Governance issues such as privacy, cybersecurity and net neutrality will be debated more than ever in countless international venues. If it wants to carry some weight with the Internet “big game”, Europe cannot afford to play with 28 different national teams. It should speak with one voice out of a clear and bold vision.
Unfortunately, there are few signs that this will occur. In the past years Member states have relegated the issue of Internet Governance to a bunch of working documents and non-binding declarations. They haven’t gone beyond agreeing on a set of vague principles and have widely disregarded the European Commission’s pleas for more common action.
Such disengagement conceals the will to keep a free hand on the issue, highlighting different national stances. For instance, France and Germany are seemingly inclined to favour a more intergovernamental approach in the future governance of the Internet, whereas other EU countries are far more cautious fearing this could give more (legal) legitimacy to non liberal states’ attempts at censuring the web.
Nonetheless, a reasonable compromise would not be that difficult. Last year, the European Commission presented an ambitious political document on Internet Governance that could serve as a basis for further negotiations. Likewise, the European Parliament outlined his position in a number of non-binding resolutions.
Europe has still a great chance to be a protagonist of the current transition if it is willing to set aside ineffective national interests and develop a long-term and common strategy. But it should hurry.
On 25 January the proposed EU General Data Protection Regulation is turning three. The irony is that it won’t come into force before it is six. That is, of course, the best-case scenario.
A compromise between EU governments is unlikely to be concluded before the end of the year, or even later. After that, the Council must reach consensus with the European Parliament on the wording of the final text. A lot of time may have passed by then.
Much more time than Viviane Reding could have imagined when she unveiled the proposal in 2012. What’s more, the wait won’t be over. Once adopted, there is expected to be a two year transition period before the regulation takes effect.
In the meantime many things are likely to change under the skies of Europe. The regulation has been proposed in the wake of the NSA spy scandals, with most EU leaders calling for stricter privacy rules in order to appease their public opinions. However, in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo shooting the political agenda in many EU countries seems to be shifting from privacy worries to surveillance efforts.
On the other hand the rise of new technologies, such as the Internet of Things or Big Data, may present challenges to privacy that will require fresh legislative intervention.
In short, when in 2018 – or even later – the regulation enters into force, it risks to be out of touch with the reality, and partially ineffective. European paradoxes at their best.
As widely reported by the press, the Internet of Things took center stage at this year’s CES event in Las Vegas. But it wasn’t just a matter of health trackers, connected cars or “smart” home appliances being showcased to the usual crowd of tech enthusiast. There was also a lot of talk about the implications of a coming world in which most everyday objects will be connected.
In fact, for all its touted benefits, the rise of IoT is expected to raise a number of legal questions and regulatory issues. This was the core message of a speech delivered by US Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez during the event itself.
While recognizing that the boom in connected devices has the potential to foster global economic growth and improve people’s lives, Ramirez voiced particular concern about security and privacy risks posed by the Internet of Things. Her words highlight FTC efforts in developing a fresh and more tailored response to the challenge.
So, how the European Union is faring in this respect? Well, let’s say that it’s time to do more.
The European Commission held a public consultation on IoT between April and July 2012 in view of presenting an ambitious “recommendation” (i.e. a non.binding by Spring 2013. At the same time, the conclusions of an EU Expert Group signalled that policy initiatives were required in as many areas as privacy, safety and security, ethics, interoperability, governance and standard.
Yet the recommendation has never come into being, and ever since IoT has all but disappeared from the EU institutions’ radar. To a certain extent some IoT issues have been addressed through a proposed “data protection” regulation and a cyber security directive.
However, a far more comprehensive approach is clearly needed and the new European Commission should start working on it as soon as possible. Even if it may be still considered in its infancy, IoT is growing at a rapid pace. According to Cisco, some 25 billion devices will be connected by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020. A stronger regulatory framework at EU level will not only ensure that consumers’ rights be kept safe, but will also enable the industry to evolve in a stable manner as legal uncertainty is bad for innovation too.
Europe’s copyright rules have long been left behind by the exponential growth of digital technology. The existing EU framework rests on a directive from 2001, which was basically designed for an ‘analogue’ world.
The result is an outdated legal landscape that remains highly fragmented along national lines and looks ever more at odds with the borderless nature of the Internet.
Since its early days the new European Commission has pledged with great fanfare to fix the problem. It is now expected to unveil plans for copyright reform by this spring, the task being entrusted to the commissioner for the Digital Economy, Germany’s Günther Oettinger – with the commission’s Vice-President Andrus Ansip set to supervise the job. They better brace themselves for a bumpy ride. For the battle is about to turn nasty.
Copyright is one of Europe’s thorniest – and most polarizing – issues, with scores of vested interests pulling in opposite directions and (most) governments rather wary of relinquishing their national powers.
It is no wonder if the past decade has seen a series of EU-led initiatives flopping miserably. And it is not granted that Mr. Oettinger may succeed where his honourable predecessors failed. On paper he should have the experience and the political backing behind him to deliver.
After all, during his previous tenure as European commissioner for energy Mr. Oettinger had to deal with powerful lobbies. He can also count on strong support from the German government.But he is a newcomer to the complicated copyright dossier and admittedly he’s been given little time to think it through.
To be sure, the new digital commissioner will struggle to strike a satisfactory balance between right holders’ demands for protection (and esclusivity) and digital/telecoms players’ cries for more openness and flexibility. In fact, there are reasons to worry that he finds himself torn between the two opposing camps, ultimately giving birth to a botched, unambitious proposal that once again will prevent Europe from achieving an harmonized framework over copyright in sync with the digital times.
Norwegian politician Trygve Lie once described the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations, which he held for 6 years, as “the world’s most impossible job”. It is not exaggerated to say that Mr. Oettinger is about to grapple with Europe’s most impossible job.
Experts may have mixed feelings about Neelie Kroes’ record as EU Digital chief. Yet it would be hard for them to question her efforts to bring the ‘digital cause’ to prominence among European leaders and the public opinion alike. That is precisely why the new European Commission needs to keep her on board.
In her five-year-long crusade, Mrs Kroes managed to forge a powerful narrative around the vital importance of information and communication technologies for Europe’s present and future prosperity. That message is eventually being heard in the political circles.
It still has to be translated into bolder legislative efforts. The new European executive has openly pledged to accomplish this daunting job, notably by putting emphasis on completing the digital single market. Against this background, Mrs Kroes’ diplomatic and communicative skills can be very helpful. Her forward-looking vision too. Mr Juncker should consider appointing her to a newly created job of EU Digital Ambassador.
He may look to a successful initiative launched by Mrs Kroes herself, namely the creation of national ‘digital champions’, to have an idea of how the role would work.
Digital Champions are high-profile public figures tasked with advocating a digital inclusive society: they also advise governments on promoting e-skills in education, fostering e-government services, encouraging digital entrepreneurship, supporting businesses to embrace new technologies, boosting research and innovation. Mrs Kroes, who is soon to become the Netherlands Special Envoy for Startups, would be the ideal candidate to impersonate this role at European level.
Messrs Ansip and Oettinger, who took over the EU digital portfolio from her, have much to gain too. Mrs Kroes could help them build the public and political consensus required to pass very sensitive reforms: from copyright to, say, radiopectrum management.