The European Digital Agenda has gone…now go ahead!

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This is the reposting of a comment by Raffaele Barberio first published on Key4biz

The speech given on 30 May by Neelie Kroes to the European Parliament marks an important step for the future of the European Digital Agenda. And the message that emerges is that the Digital Agenda we have known until now is, in fact, finished.

A new course is emerging, that ushers in the vision presented by Commissioner Kroes and brings the old agenda to a close. As a response to the collapse of theLisbon Strategy in the middle of 2010, Commissioner Kroes began promoting the European Digital Agenda.
The need for Europe to relaunch its position on the global chessboard has been inevitable: the 500-year cycle of European dominance in economic, cultural, financial, and I would say even religious, key has closed. A new cycle that is moving the center of gravity to the world at large is opening (and with it the ability to create value and probably a dominant culture) in other geographical quadrants, predominantly in the Far East.

At the same time, Europe is becoming a continent with an aging population, with rising unemployment, especially among young people, and with the need of a relaunch that can only be derived from its ability to change pitch, to reshuffle the cards, by restoring competitiveness to businesses and by attracting investment in European business from America, Asia and the Gulf region.

In these three years, the Digital Agenda has represented, first and foremost, the objectives of continental network access, urging the definition of national Digital Agendas in all European countries, whose services could build a continental path stronger than the sum of the breakthroughs achieved by each country. However, this approach has not worked consequently to various factors.

The first issue concerns the differences among the various European countries in outlining a multi-speed Europe. It is difficult to build the Digital Agenda among countries with diverse social, economic, and technological conditions, and which, in some cases, do not recognize the need for modernization or have difficulty in deciding the necessary investments.

The second concerns the perception of Europe by the Member States and their populations: the risk is to miss a unique perception that makes every proposal made by the EU acceptable, feasible, and sharable.

It is difficult to offer (and accept) the continental objectives on the basis ” …of contributions that each country gives for the creation of the single European market…” (as stated in the first line of the Digital Agenda of 2010 launch document) in a context far too divided to participate in the idea of Europe. Equally difficult for change to move forward is that it must start from the bottom, without a single shared perspective. If you look, for example, at participation in the European vote, rates vary from 90% Belgian to 20% Slovakian: a divide too wide to define the idea of Europe as a shared perspective.

The third issue concerns the management ability of European leaders, perceived today as ruled by the bureaucracy of European headquarters in Brussels. And it is certainly true that our European  leaders are missing a courageous vision, resistant to the pressures of the individual States and sensitive to developing a connected society. It is a ruling class, in essence, for which brokerage takes precedence over cohesion, of which there is a need. The intervention of Kroes to the European Parliament confirms, in fact, these difficulties. It has the sense of a call to arms almost at the end of the European legislative session in the Spring of 2014: a  single European digital market capable of ensuring the digital connections that Europe needs to become digital, competitive, and keep pace with the rest of the world. The alternative will be the marginalisation of old Europe.

The point is that the digital services need the infrastructure of broadband and ultra broadband networks, which to be built, must have investments. But how can we imagine such massive resources when we consider that the European telecommunications operators, who mainly must make these investments, closed their five-year consolidated financial period in the red? In short, it is obvious that something isn’t working. Perhaps even the goals. You cannot protect the individual European consumer without setting up a similar protection of European companies. These protections must guarantee that non-European companies operating within Europe do not enjoy asymmetric regulatory advantages that damage only European companies. But it is interesting to consider Kroes’s line of appeal, in particular on roaming. She advocates ending those expensive mobile services (both voice and data transfer and access to the mobile internet) well known to all Europeans who travel across the continent for business or tourism. Mobile operators have not appreciated the initiative on roaming, and Kroes has done well to urge the end of the delays. “This is the opportunity to stand up and be counted. I will fight with my last breath to get us there together.”

Risqué sounds that indicate how you are playing the game of the heart. But then Commissioner Kroes would give a natural continuation to these assumptions. Only one market would mean removing  national borders, it would mean cancelling the fragmenting of the continental markets and, if we carry it to its logical conclusion, this approach would also mean cancelling regulatory differences by placing all the operators (not only TLC) on an equal footing with a shared regulatory framework: A Single Digital Market with a Single Authority.

The Digital Agenda as we have known it is finished.
It is Commissioner Kroes who has bypassed it.
Now we must discard the heart in addition to the obstacles.
It is important now, without any delay, that Commissioner Kroes assume the announced course of action, defining milestones for the next few months, leaving a clear legacy for the next Commission.
Otherwise, we risk a debacle similar to the failure of the Lisbon strategy, but without having the luxury those years that have allowed us to change directions.
This game will be played in the coming months.
Commissioner Kroes has admitted that, with rare exceptions, the issues related to the telecommunications networks and the digital topics have never been a priority of the EU. This European ruling class must now assume their responsibilities.
We’ll soon find out if the challenge we are facing can be faced at all or if we are destined for a marginal economic future.
The Digital Agenda has perhaps played a role. Now we need to look beyond it. Now.

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