Looking at Europe’s digital progress, 2015 started under great promise but didn’t end quite so well. So how can Europe do better? Here are 5 tests I’ll be applying in a year’s time.
Must do (quite a lot) better in 2016. Yes, it’s a cliché but that might well be the end-of-year report on Europe’s digital progress in 2015.
It started with great promise; President Juncker making snappy videos about his digital street cred, a Vice-President for the Digital Single Market and a Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, and DSM strategy with welcome consultations.
But the year didn’t end quite so well, did it?
A compromise on data protection that didn’t deliver on its original promise of reduced costs for business, with a single consistent approach across Europe and a one-stop-shop; real uncertainty for many businesses thanks to the ruling on Safe Harbour, and endless examples of incumbent interests seeing off the disruptors who had the temerity to use digital to offer better, cheaper service to European city dwellers.
So how can Europe do better this year? Here are 5 tests I’ll be applying in a year’s time.
First, and it’s a big one, I’ll be asking whether we give as much weight to gaining the benefits of the new, and increasingly global, data economy and society – from health benefits to wealth benefits – as we do to the important task of keeping our data safe and secure. Have we grasped the opportunities of global data flows and resisted unproductive forced localization?
Second, make it more attractive, not less, to invest in Europe’s digital infrastructure. If the EU is to lead the way to 5G, crucial bands will have to be made available in a coordinated and timely way, putting an end to today’s national fragmentation.
My third test: make a real improvement in the quality and quantity of digital skills available both to tech suppliers and their customers in Europe’s industries and public services alike. At the end of the year I want to see that Europe’s citizens can easily and cheaply acquire the digital skills they need to be active in our digital Europe.
Next really do unlock the potential of e-commerce. Don’t just say you’ll do so while building new barriers and making consumer rules in the online world different from, and more complicated than the off-line world – recognise that for most Europeans this distinction is fast disappearing.
Fifth and finally, I want to see that many more of Europe’s business leaders and politicians have grasped and actively promoted the power of digital to modernise our industries and improve public services to drive the single market. Will we have shifted our thinking to exploit the power of modern platforms rather than worrying about them?
To borrow from Machiavelli, Europe has to tackle the powerful vested interests that profit from the status quo, while at the same time embracing the disruptors who dare to challenge them.
I look forward to seeing you again next year and I have every expectation of a better report.
photo credit: Tom Gill
Where does the real balance of power lie in the European Parliament elected in June last year? More specifically, who wields the most influence?
Superficially, of course, it is the Centre-Right European People’s Party as the largest grouping but it does lose 16% of its seats compared to the previous legislature.
The gap now between the second largest grouping, the Socialists and Democrats group, is only 30 seats compared to 81 in the last Parliament.
The S&D group attracted 7 more seats in the 2014 elections but many expected it to come out on top so their improved performance is somewhat qualified. The Liberal group (ALDE) lost almost 20% of its seats and even the Greens lost 9% compared to the 2009 elections.
The big collective winners, of course, were the variety of “anti-EU/anti-establishment” groupings of the extreme left and right accounting, depending on your definition, for 25-30% of the total membership.
But here again, their weight has been mitigated as the mainstream groupings have successfully kept them out of any real positions of influence in the Parliament and many of these parties remain fragmented.
But enough about basic statistics. An obvious measure of influence is the frequency with which majorities are assembled and key votes won. Another, admittedly more subjective, gauge is visibility in the media – and here I mean particularly the media outside the “Brussels bubble”.
Three of the highest profile matters that the European Parliament is now handling – data privacy, the conduct of the financial sector and “Luxleaks” – have Green MEPs taking the lead (Jan Albrecht, Sven Giegold and Philippe Lamberts).
Anglo-Saxon media at least regularly refer to and quote these parliamentarians in their news stories. This does not necessarily translate, of course, into the Green group being able to assemble majorities in their favour on these matters but it is a pretty clear example of a group representing less than 6% of the total EP membership punching way above its weight.
I may be being too simplistic in this assessment. The two largest groups still hold key positions.
The EPP-S&D arrangement of sharing the EP’s presidency every two and a half years shows no sign of overhaul and many respected figures from these groups hold the chairmanships of important committees, such as Claude Moraes on Civil Liberties and Bernd Lange on Trade from the S&D and Elmar Brok on Foreign Affairs and Jerzy Buzek on Industry, Research and Energy from the EPP.
Whatever the size of the group members belong to, however, all MEPs face a new challenge in their role as “co-legislators”.
The new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker and masterminded by his first Vice-President Frans Timmermans, seems determined to reduce significantly the number of proposals where the Parliament’s opinion and approval are to be sought.
In its first annual work programme for 2015, the Commission has announced just 23 new proposals and the removal of 80 more languishing on the negotiating table.
This compares with 316 proposals in the first annual programme of the last Commission headed by Jose-Manuel Barroso and on average 100 new proposals in the subsequent four years of “Barroso II”.
This does not automatically mean that MEPs will have less to get their teeth into from now on but it does suggest a keener rivalry between groups and between members to secure positions of prominence such as rapporteurships and chairing committees of enquiry in those areas where the Commission will be focusing its attention.
After the stunning combined victory of the extreme groups in last June’s poll the understandable reaction of the main political groupings was to close ranks in an attempt to preserve some sense of “business as usual”. That strategy has worked well until now.
It remains to be seen whether this self-imposed cohesion will survive as the business of politics, as much as legislation, takes its natural course.