Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner For Digital Economy And Society:

Laying The Foundations Of A Digital Europe

"Our main task is to help our co-legislators swiftly adopt the remaining proposals to meet the objectives set in the EU’s legislative priorities, as well as the European Council's call for full DSM implementation by the end of 2018"

MARIYA GABRIEL

We must manage the digital transformation and continue the process of digitising our industry and enhancing its capabilities with High Performance Computing that will allow for improved competitiveness – says Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, two and a half years after the start of the implementation of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy. Creating a strong DSM also represents a powerful engine of development for Europe that will provide citizens and the economy with new possibilities. And Serbia will also take its chance there in the future.

– We must also pursue the digitisation of our strong service sector, promoting digital health and connected mobility, and increase the uptake of digital technologies for public services. Finally, we must bring digital skills and competences to all levels of education and training, says Commissioner Gabriel.

The creation of a digital single market is one of the most promising areas of advancement, which simultaneously represents the biggest challenge for Europe. Why does the continent need a digital single market and what tangible benefits will it bring for both the economy and society?

– Our daily life is becoming ever more digital and will transform the way we live, work and communicate with each other. The digital revolution, if well managed, offers the opportunity to strengthen Europe’s economy and society, which has suffered from a decade of low growth and a weakening of the social fabric. It is also an opportunity for the EU to demonstrate global leadership in innovation and technologies.

Our businesses need a fully functioning digital single market to be better able to scale up and trade across borders without being hindered by regulatory fragmentation. Our industry and service sectors must take advantage of digitisation to modernise their processes. This is vital for our growth, employment and continued prosperity.

We start from a very good place. We have a strong industrial base, a high-quality service sector, highly skilled people and a high capacity to innovate. We must now shift these competitive advantages to the digital world and consolidate Europe’s central position in global supply chains, or else risk being overtaken by our competitors. Last but not least, we need to ensure our graduates and workforce have the right skills to prosper and take advantage of the new environment.

Achieving this extraordinary potential requires the removal of various obstacles. How has the Digital Single Market Strategy (DSMS), adopted in 2015, defined the priority areas requiring new solutions?

– The principal aim of the DSMS is to maximise the positive impact of the digital revolution on people’s lives and European business activity. For example, fundamental to the new data driven economy is that data is free to move. There are currently restrictions in some national legislation that prevent this happening and we have already taken action to address that.

Equally, we want consumers to be able to shop cross-border without restrictions. Our action on geo-blocking is designed to address these barriers. And we also want to ensure that companies, and particularly SMEs. can expand their operations abroad without the fear of not knowing the applicable rules. This is why we take action on transparency in parcel delivery or VAT simplification.

Finally, we wanted to create the right framework for digital development. To this end, we proposed an important reform of the European telecom market. We also continue to look at the role of online platforms in the digital economy and we put forward legislative proposals that bring copyright and the audio-visual sector into the digital era.

MARIYA GABRIEL

We wanted to create the right framework for digital development. To this end, we proposed an important reform of the European telecom market. We also continue to look at the role of online platforms in the digital economy and we put forward legislative proposals that bring copyright and the audio-visual sector into the digital era

Which steps has the European Commission proposed for achieving the DSMS’s objectives?

– Since the adoption of the DSMS with 16 priorities in May 2015, the Commission has put forward 44 proposals, 24 of which are legislative and 11 have already been completed. These proposals are intended to bring down barriers, reduce the costs of doing business across borders, improve access to goods and services for all citizens, and create the necessary conditions for investment and growth in digital infrastructure and services, and all those sectors that rely on them.

As many as half of the proposed 16 steps relate to the first priority area (“pillar”) – better access to goods and services. Does this mean that this segment is actually the driver of the entire digital market?

– The DSMS is built on three pillars for a reason. I would not say that any one is more important than another, but rather that – given the inter-related nature of the challenges we face – we will not have a fully functioning digital single market without significant progress on all three pillars.

Without investment, we will not have ubiquitous connectivity and modern digital industrial processes. Without connectivity and the free flow of data, we won’t have connected cars or eHealth. Without action on skills, we will not have the workforce required for a digitised industry to function. All areas are equally important, so it would be a mistake to focus on one at the expense of the others.

At the mid-term point of its mandate, in the middle of this year, the European Commission published a review of the DSMS. What did this report show?

– The mid-term review assessed progress towards the implementation of the Digital Single Market, identified where more efforts were needed and where the changing digital landscape calls for new action at the EU level.

The review also made clear that we do not have a lot of time to turn political commitments into reality. The need for investment is urgent. This is true across the board but, particularly so in connectivity, high performance computing and digital skills. We need focus to stay on the big things that require a common European response, and to create the conditions that allow Member States, businesses and citizens to innovate and reap the rewards of digitisation.

MARIYA GABRIEL

The mid-term review assessed progress towards the implementation of the Digital Single Market, identified where more efforts were needed and where the changing digital landscape calls for new action at the EU level

What are the key achievements of 2016 and 2017? What are the remaining priorities until the end of 2018?

– Since the start of 2017 we have been delivering on key parts of the Digital Single Market Strategy, such as the end of roaming, spectrum coordination and the adoption of the Marrakech Treaty to facilitate access to published works for blind or visually impaired people. Citizens will soon benefit from portability of content or internet connectivity in public spaces through the WiFi4EU initiative. We have already started work on fake news, HPC and many other concrete proposals. I am also proud of the agreement reached in November on geo-blocking.

In May 2017 we adopted proposals to ensure a fair, open and secure digital environment by putting forward ideas that will boost our cyber security, enable a free flow of non-personal data and improve the online platform ecosystem.

In accordance with the DSMS, the European Commission also this year recommended the updating of legislation, in order to ensure greater privacy in e-communications, as well as political and legal solutions essential for launching a European data economy. Why is the issue of privacy one of the most important in electronic communications?

– We need to foster trust in digital services, which is indispensable for the digital single market to succeed. To this end, we adopted our proposal on privacy and electronic communications in January 2017. It requires that the principle of confidentiality of communications be respected, in line with Article 7 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Privacy of communications is also an enabler of other fundamental rights, such as freedom of thought, speech and religion. It is extremely important for companies to be able to exchange business information and secrets confidentially and conduct their business without third parties interfering in their communications. Effective privacy rules for electronic communications, as set forth in the proposal, are essential for maintaining and creating trust in digital services.

The stances with which the DSMS was presented included the statement “Strategy is just the start, not the aim”. What are the main tasks set by the European Commission for 2018?

– The digital environment is, by definition, dynamic and characterised by innovation and disruption. It would be naïve to suggest that a single strategy, once in place, would address every issue. It will always be an ongoing process, but we have priorities.

First and foremost, our main task is to help our colegislators swiftly adopt the remaining proposals to meet the objectives set in the EU’s legislative priorities, as well as the European Council’s call for full DSM implementation by the end of 2018.

Furthermore, we must manage the digital transformation. We must continue the process of digitising our industry, enhancing its capabilities with High Performance Computing that will allow for improved competitiveness. We must also pursue the digitisation of our strong service sector, promoting digital health and connected mobility, and increase the uptake of digital technologies for public services. Finally, we must bring digital skills and competences to all levels of education and training, supporting teachers and educators and promoting the active involvement of businesses and other organisations.

MARIYA GABRIEL

The full economic and social benefits of the digital transformation will only be achieved if Europe can ensure widespread deployment and take-up of very high capacity networks, in urban and rural areas, and across the whole of society

Developing countries have the difficult but unavoidable task of accelerating their activities in order to achieve a modern digital society, based on the digital economy. What is the Commission’s policy when it comes to Serbia, but also the region’s other countries that are not yet EU members?

– The challenges being faced by EU Member States in this process are very similar to the ones that Serbia and the other Western Balkan countries must address. Of course, there is a gap and the countries in the region need to catch up. This is a challenge, but also a possibility to learn from EU Member States and leapfrog them by going directly from a non-digital economy to an e-economy – from paper-based government procedures to a dynamic eGovernment, which provides transparent services to its citizens. As a candidate country, my objective is to integrate Serbia into the digital single market so that Serbian citizens and businesses can benefit from a single unified European space for digital goods and services. We are helping Serbia and the region to address the targets defined in the DSMS. This includes ensuring harmonisation with EU legislation, addressing trust and security aspects and making sure there is the necessary infrastructure needed. There is also a general need to increase ICT literacy across the region. Serbia’s digital skills programme for schools is a good example of how to prepare citizens for the digital society.

An important step for Serbia will be the adoption of the Law on Electronic Communications, which is expected soon. How would you assess opportunities in Serbia and activities that are being increasingly intensified, with the aim of preparing for the country’s accession to the European Digital Single Market?

– The Law on Electronic Communications is important, as it represents the foundation for technological and economic growth and investments. A politically and financially independent regulator is needed to ensure a fair and stable market. I am of course very pleased with the efforts of the Serbian government and particularly PM Ana Brnabić’s personal engagement in the digitisation of the Serbian economy and society. This is speeding up Serbia’s path towards membership. However, much more is needed. There is a need for investments, for example in broadband, and investments will be hampered without a sound legal basis defining the conditions.

The decision to abolish roaming tariffs in the EU also applies to several non-member states. Can we now talk about the potential for roaming tariffs to be abolished for the countries of the Western Balkans – Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia?

– The EU roaming regulation imposes direct obligations on operators, but cannot be extended beyond the European Economic Area (EEA). Therefore, the end of roaming charges only applies in EU countries and the EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

However, as part of our renewed commitment to the enlargement process, we have started a discussion with the operators of telecommunications services in the Western Balkans to prepare a roadmap that will lead to a lowering of tariffs for roaming both within the region and, ultimately, between the region and the EU.

MARIYA GABRIEL

The availability of high-capacity connectivity is also an underlying condition for the success of key digital projects like 5G. By 2025, 5G is expected to be the enabler for all digital services by providing connectivity to people, wherever they live, work, gather or travel

According to results from 2015, only five per cent of companies from EU member states sold their products and services online in other member states. What are the results like when it comes to online sales of companies from nonmember states, such as Serbia? What steps should be taken to increase these percentages?

– Some basic elements need to be in place to increase online shopping in goods and services . Apart from the basic condition of internet access, there is a need for citizens to have trust when submitting their personal information online, as well as an easy and trustworthy way to pay for goods and services. Serbia should focus on addressing these topics, as there is great growth potential. Importing from abroad is still too complicated in Serbia, partly due to customs handling. Shopping from abroad is currently treated as import from a third country – something that could be addressed in the context of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, to remove or lower the barriers. The Serbian market also needs to be better regulated. Consumers need to have a regulatory framework defining their rights and obligations, an area where Serbia needs to step up its efforts.

As part of the DSMS, the European Commission last year set new strategic goals for connectivity up to 2025. The cofinancing of research and development was also initiated in order to intensify preparations for the introduction of 5G internet. What are the initial results; and does it currently seem realistic to expect the availability of 5G internet in at least one city in each EU member state by 2020?

– The full economic and social benefits of the digital transformation will only be achieved if Europe can ensure widespread deployment and take-up of very high capacity networks, in urban and rural areas, and across the whole of society.

New digital applications – like virtual and augmented reality, increasingly connected and automated driving, e-health, remote surgery, artificial intelligence, precision farming, digital manufacturing – will all require the speed, quality and responsiveness that can only be delivered by very high-capacity broadband networks. Furthermore, the digital divide between urban and rural areas is at risk of increasing significantly without appropriate attention to adequate coverage in the underserved areas.

The 2025 strategic connectivity targets have these precise goals in mind to stimulate growth and jobs, ensure economic competitiveness and maintain social cohesion.

The availability of high-capacity connectivity is also an underlying condition for the success of key digital projects like 5G. By 2025, 5G is expected to be the enabler for all digital services by providing connectivity to people, wherever they live, work, gather or travel. It is also expected that 5G will transform the economy by providing wireless connectivity to all objects – whenever beneficial – including vehicles, machines and sensors, in line with the Strategy on Digitising European Industry.

The European Commission and EU Member States are working together to make the 5G Action Plan a reality, to achieve the internal market scale and transform 5G into a success for Europe. A commercially available 5G service in at least one major city in each of the EU Member States by 2020 will be a stepping stone in this direction.

The political commitment is there to position Europe as the global lead market for 5G. We are therefore deploying the necessary research and innovation resources, as well as the future-orientated framework conditions at regional, national and European levels that would facilitate investments in this area.