Today, across Europe, we can find widespread consensus on the need to invest in high speed networks. However, there are some vital elements missing from the discussion: characterization of the technologies that will allow for such deployment, and ways to achieve this.
According to the World Economic Forum, the Internet-based business activity will reach 4.2 trillion dollars in the G-20 countries by 2016.
The digital economy is growing faster (about 10% per year) compared to the economy as a whole, while in emerging markets it is growing at a rate of 12-25 % per year, with significant results in social and political terms, as well as economic impact.
The digital challenge is also central for the European Union countries to stimulate inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
The potential of the digital economy, the European single market, the Internet of things and the convergence between broadband and TV, can only be achieved if there is adequate digital infrastructure enabling speed in excess of 30 Mbps (Megabits per second).
Next generation access networks are a general-purpose technology with the potential to trigger productivity gains on a massive scale.
These gains might take years to accrue, because new applications and new organizational and production designs that use Next generation access networks need time to be developed.
Nevertheless, we consider wide Next generation access infrastructure roll-out to be welfare enhancing and that it should therefore be an objective of the European Union. This is consistent with the view taken by the European Commission.
The manner in which the transition to this next generation infrastructure is managed and encouraged will be crucial. Optical fiber is for sure a response to the need of durable, symmetric, reliable and easy to maintain technology.
Today, across Europe, we can find a widespread consensus on the need to invest in ‘reliable, trustworthy, high speed and affordable networks and services’: the Digital Single Market Strategy and Juncker Plan are a powerful illustration of this consensus.
However, there are some vital elements missing from the discussion: characterization of the technologies that will allow for such deployment, and ways to achieve this – all the more important at this point of time as the EU is building tomorrow’s infrastructure.
More than one year after the Junker Plan entered into force, the projects on digital infrastructure are below the expectations. To promote investments the EC shall drive the innovation through a clear framework and better coordinating member states’ initiatives.
Fibre has a number of benefits which other solutions cannot match. Apart from speed, we need to take the quality and durability of the network components and homogeneity of the network into account.
Here, fibre outperforms everything else. The network should remain in place for decades and support several consecutive generations of active equipment and services.
Fibre is the most future-proof option and progress in technologies such as bend-immunity and data compression can increase its active life even further.
According to the Digital Agenda of the EU Commission, Europe needs competitively priced fast and ultra fast Internet access for all.
In this regard, the EU is to establish next generation access networks. The Commission intends to use European funds in order to finance investment in broadband but at the same time shall encourage and coordinate MS ‘efforts and private initiatives.
If Europe wants to benefit of all the advantages offered by the digital revolution, a reliable, trustworthy, high speed and affordable network is at the basis of the digital single market.
Picture credits: Abby
The Digital Post spoke to Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Vice-
President Ansip, about the latest progress of the Digital Single Market strategy.
The Digital Post: How is the implementation of the Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy progressing?
Juhan Lepassaar: So far, we have adopted two key proposals on the harmonisation of digital contracts rules and on portability of digital content. In addition, in February the Commission presented legislation intended for greater coordination in the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services. Last month, we also published a package on Industry 4.0 and e-government, containing a number of non-legislative actions that will help create the right environment to boost the digitalisation of the European industry.
During the month of May, we are going to unveil our e-commerce package, which will include actions to tackle unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of online discrimination practices. We will also present a proposal for the review of the audiovisual media services directive and a communication on the role of online platforms. Before the summer break, we plan to move forward with the public-private partnership on cyber security.
Then, the next big things are the review of the European telecoms framework in September or early October and the next steps of the modernisation of EU copyright rules. Finally, in autumn we will act on the free flow of data, we will table proposals on VAT for digital products and on corporate enforcement rules.
TDP: According to a number of observers some proposals would actually mean more regulation on tech industry at the expense of their capability to innovate and invest. Are these fears justified?
JL: We believe that these fears are unjustified. We do not want to undermine the way the digital economy operates. Our proposals are balanced: they allow enough flexibility without adding more regulatory burdens. Take the example of digital platforms. The commission has concluded that it wouldn’t be judicious to have a horizontal regulation on platforms because they are way too diversified. Hence, we are opting for a problem-driven approach.
That is, once a problem is identified and clearly defined, we might act through regulation or opting for self-regulation initiatives. We’ve already applied this approach on the issue of hate speech on digital platforms. That doesn’t mean that existing rules on certain areas like platform content, transparency or the issue of the so-called value gap will not be further clarified within the DSM initiatives.
We aim to simplify the environment for tech industry in Europe. This is what we do by harmonising rules in different areas. For example, one clear set of rules for consumer protection in the EU, rather than a patchwork of 28 different national regimes, makes it easier for businesses to grow across borders. In the end, this is actually about less rules and better regulation.
TDP:What are the key elements or the strategy to fix the EU-US digital divide?
JL: First, reducing the regulatory fragmentation. That is the key issue that differentiates the European market from the US. Second: access to finance for our tech industry. We have set out an agenda, which will reduce fragmentation and bring down the barriers for businesses opening to them a market of 500 millions customers.
TDP:Businesses in the United Kingdom and other countries are concerned about the cross-border tax system. How the Commission intends to modernise the VAT for digital products?
JL: There is a difference if a business has to deal with 28 taxation authorities or only one. What we want to ensure is that, especially small and medium size businesses when they do business across the borders will only deal with their own tax authority and the rest is taken care of by tax authorities between member states. The commission in its digital single market strategy has already highlighted the fact that in the area of e-commerce we need a taxation threshold to protect the smallest businesses. We will act upon this with our proposals that are forthcoming in December.
TDP: The upcoming revision of EU telecoms framework will revolve around the usual dilemma, more deregulation versus more competition. How do you strike that balance?
JL: That’s a good question. Telecoms operators are right when they say they face regulatory burdens that new players do not. It is our job to determine whether we can reduce the regulatory burden to all and whether there are still any areas where we need to make sure that all the players that provide same services also abide by the same rules. I think the answer is a bit of both approaches.
TDP: What are the plans of the commission with respect to industry 4.0?
JL: The plan that the Commission published last month includes issues like standardisation and interoperability as well as measures to boost Cloud Computing and Big Data technologies in Europe. The proposal is also designed to help digital public services to inter-connect with each other across borders so that businesses, if they want to do business across the borders, can do it easily without having to submit the same information to different public authorities.
The plan also links up to the forthcoming initiatives on the free flow of data. It is also very important that the revision of the telecoms framework touch upon the issue of spectrum, which is a commodity increasingly needed by the industry for the internet of things or self-driving cars for example. All in all, Industry 4.0 relates to all DSM initiatives.
This is the first of a series of interviews held during the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Two years ago the European Commission launched the SME Instrument to address a notorious funding gap in small early-stage companies that is a major barrier to innovation. Here’s the key steps your start-ups should follow to enjoy this funding opportunity.
The European Commission has fully recognised the key role of ICT in improving the business landscape in Europe and many efforts are being made to foster digital entrepreneurship.
Firmly embedded in Europe 2020 – the European Union’s ten-year growth strategy – the Digital Single Market strategy (formerly known as Digital Agenda) recognises the revolutionary potential that information and communication technology (ICT) offers to boost growth, increase productivity and improve the welfare of citizens and consumers.
The Digital Agenda has set goals with 101 actions, spread over 7 pillars, which will help to reboot the EU economy and enable Europe’s citizens and businesses to get the most out of digital technologies. ‘Pillar V: Research and innovation’ hopes to attract Europe’s best minds to research, acknowledging that world class infrastructures and adequate funding are crucial.
From an economic perspective, the importance of SMEs for economic growth and jobs creation is increasingly obvious: Start-ups create the majority of new jobs. However, Europe is clearly lagging behind other geographical areas in terms of global leadership in this sector.
Therefore, EU level action is essential, as a complement to existing initiatives at local, or national level. The issues identified, such as the need for a stronger culture of entrepreneurship and innovation, or insufficient access to financial resources and human capital, extend well beyond the borders of individual EU member states.
In an effort to maintain Europe’s competitive edge through increased coordination and its attempt to go beyond national fragmented efforts, the European Commission has taken action to help entrepreneurs and SMEs fully exploit the potential of technologies, both in terms of supply of new digital products and services and in terms of demand and smart use of these technologies.
In this spirit, Start-up Europe and the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan were designed to unleash Europe’s entrepreneurial potential, to remove existing obstacles and to foster the culture of entrepreneurship in Europe.
The challenges ahead
Yet, efforts to remove obstacles alone are not enough; turning research/science based innovation into new services and products is a challenging endeavour, as commercialising new forms of innovations is inherently high-risk and requires significant investments and follow-up funding.
It is worth noting that private investments in ICT research in Europe continue to lagging behind (less than half of investments compared with the US).
As such, the EU is currently losing the race on scaling-up disruptive, market-creating innovation with the US leading the pack (101 Unicorns) and China following (36 Unicorns). By contrast, the EU only counts 19 Unicorns.
The lack of sufficient public information for potential investors about technologies developed by small firms or the leakage of new knowledge that escapes the boundaries of firms and intellectual property protection, are amongst the many different challenges young entrepreneurs face.
The challenges of incomplete and leaky information pose substantial obstacles for new firms seeking capital. The difficulty of attracting investors to support an imperfectly understood, as yet-to-be-developed innovation is especially daunting.
Indeed, the term, “Valley of Death”, has come to describe this challenging transition when a developing technology is deemed promising, but too new to validate its commercial potential and thereby to attract the capital necessary for its development.
Lacking the capital to develop an idea sufficiently to attract investors, many promising ideas and firms perish.
Despite these challenges, many firms attempt to make their way across this Valley of Death by seeking financing from the wealthy individual investors (business “angels”) and, later in the development cycle, from Venture Capital firms.
But because the angel market is dispersed and relatively unstructured, with a wide variation in investor sophistication, few industry standards and tools, and limited data on performance and VC funding typically oriented towards much later stages of development, capital remains very difficult to obtain for many high-technology start-ups.
The SME Instrument
In this spirit, the European Commission launched the SME Instrument within Horizon 2020 in the purpose to address a key funding gap in financing for small early-stage companies that is well recognised as a major barrier to innovation.
The instrument addresses the financing needs of internationally oriented SMEs, in implementing high-risk and high-potential innovation ideas. It aims at supporting projects with a European dimension that lead to major changes in how business (product, processes, services, marketing etc.) is done.
The purpose is to launch the company into (new) markets, promote growth, and create high return on investment. The SME instrument addresses all types of innovative SMEs so as to be able to promote growth champions in all sectors.
Unlike private risk capital which flows relatively freely during good times but plummets during economic downturns, this programme provides stable support for high-risk ventures throughout the ups-and-downs of the volatile business cycle. It cushions economic shocks that might otherwise lead to major extinction events for the industry.
To achieve these goals, the SME Instrument project has been bolstered with an €3 billion budget until 2020.
A piece of Advice: 3 steps you should follow
Define the reasons for application
Are you an entrepreneur who has established your own startup/SME? Is your startup/SME based on an innovative IT concept, product or service harnessing the potential to disrupt existing markets? Moreover, don’t hesitate to use the SME instrument basic eligibility check which can tell you if your project is eligible or not.
Build up your business strategy
You are an entrepreneur, planning to start your Startup / SME or have already started and are in the early stages. Your startup / SME is an innovative ICT based concept, product or service which has the potential to ultimately disrupt existing markets.
Bear in mind that a professionally written business strategy is the first thing that will help you grow and sell. Whatever your capital source, you will need to demonstrate to potential investors and lenders that you have taken the time to research the market and competition, identified your target customers, developed a business model and have a marketing plan in place to accomplish your goals and achieve success.
In short, you will need a well polished and compelling business plan that will satisfy lenders and get you in front of potential investors.
Check the application process and start implementing
Make sure that:
– you know the deadline for the phase you apply for. There are three phases: phase 1, phase 2, phase 3, each of them having a different deadline in each semester of the year. All proposals are submitted online;
– the written proposal has met all the requirements proposed by the European Commission;
The Commission has an online register of the organisations participating in the EU research and innovation or education, audiovisual and cultural programmes. This allows consistent handling of the organisations’ official data and avoids multiple requests for the same information.
Interested in learning more about EU funding opportunities for your startup?
The EU Startup Services Team can provide you the useful information you need for every phase of your application process. The services include consulting, evaluation, proposal writing and workshops.
The EU Startup Services Team worked with more than 1300 startups, operates in 21 countries and has held 33 workshops on EU Funding so far, with 9 successful proposals in the last year. The representatives can provide expertise on who should apply, when and which are the steps, but also help you choose the instrument which best fits your stage and your current needs.
Planning to attend the upcoming workshop? Here you can find all the details you need.
 Source: Fortune, ‘The Unicorn list 2016’; ‘Unicorns’ are start-ups with a market value > $1 billion
Picture credits: Susanne Feldt
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.