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SPEECH/ 09/519

Viviane Reding

Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and Media

Bringing down walls and barriers in the digital world – priorities for the European Digital Agenda

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED


'Visby Agenda: Creating impact for an eUnion 2015'

Visby/Gotland, 9 November 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you at this important event. First of all, let me take the opportunity to congratulate the Swedish Presidency on the excellent organisation of this conference. Sweden has a long-standing track record when it comes to implementing ICT policies and I am very happy that the directions for the next digital strategy are being prepared with Sweden in the helm.

We are here today and tomorrow to discuss what needs to be done to bring down the still existing walls and barriers in Europe's digital world. The 9 th of November is a very important date: exactly 20 years ago, on 9 th of November 1989, very concrete and physical barriers were about to collapse with the fall of the Berlin wall.

I remember vividly the wave of optimism and hope in the future that went through Germany and through Europe and the amazement of many that something like this was possible at all. And I am very grateful that we are past a stage when borders and barb wire separated countries or even parts of countries in Europe.

We have moved on 20 years in time. The European Union has become bigger and with its 500 million consumers is now the biggest consumer market in the world. We have become a powerhouse but we have also had our setbacks, as had the whole world during the last year.

The economic and financial crisis has hit us all. The EU's GDP is expected to fall by 4% this year. Now we have the common responsibility to put in our best efforts to emerge from this downturn with an ever stronger and more competitive Europe.

This is why President Barroso and I have proposed a 'Digital Agenda for Europe' to make sure that Europe focuses on the industries and applications that have the potential to lift Europe's performance.

We are here today in the beautiful city of Visby on Gotland, and while this may seem to some a remote place to discuss Europe's future, I believe the Swedish Presidency has chosen it rightly for its historic importance.

Visby was the leading trading centre in the Baltic before the Hanseatic League, with Gotlandic merchants sailing as far as Novgorod. Thus, one could see Gotland as the forerunner of the Hanse, which in itself is a forefather of what we refer today to as the single market. And I believe that we have to tackle various key aspects that still hamper the genuine single market. Because 17 years after we wanted to complete the single market, this instrument remains still largely unexploited. And ICT and media policies can make a – I believe crucial – contribution to achieving a European single market.

Yesterday's achievements were to provide Europeans with electricity and telephones; today's challenge is to provide them with high-speed internet. And this is also the road that will allow European businesses and citizens to go to exciting new digital destinations; this is the backbone to spur business growth and create up to a million jobs provided the rails can cope with the traffic and the destination is worth going to and can be reached.

To achieve the potential of ICT for restructuring our economies and societies and to spur the economic upturn at a crucial moment in time, we need to address urgently the following five priorities:

  • High-speed broadband for all;

  • Copyright and content with a clear single market dimension;

  • Improve the services available to European consumers;

  • Deploy technologies already at hand – in particular developing what I would like to call the 'European cloud';

  • Make sure that ICT delivers its contribution to achieving the Copenhagen goals.

These proposals do not come out of the blue. I have long been aware of some of the key deficiencies and obstacles that prevent Europe from making the most of its potential. Therefore, I have recently launched a very broad online questionnaire on the future ICT policy priorities.

We have had around 1000 responses and although the consultation was closed one month ago, we are still receiving input and position papers. This is an exceptional result, also considering that 65% of the respondents were individual citizens. Just to remind you, when the Commission consulted in 2004 on what was to become i2010, we received 70 responses.

But let me now focus on the task at hand and turn to my first priority.

….High-speed broadband for all

High-speed broadband for all Europeans will be the first priority to address. The Economic Recovery Package for Europe has underlined the importance of smart infrastructures available to all, with up to 1.02 billion for investing in broadband infrastructures in rural areas.

But investing in broadband can only be a first step. The real challenge is to make sure that all of Europe can manage the transition to high-speed internet networks. Because these are the networks that will be the foundation of our future productivity in the form of innovative services and applications.

And this is why I am worried if I hear that only 3% of the investment of European telecoms operators goes into fibre. We urgently need the infrastructures that are capable of carrying the applications and services of the future. And we have to make sure the investment happens.

Many Member States are currently reflecting on the challenges posed by broadband and the transition to new high-speed connectivity, and are coming up with their individual proposals. Much of this is welcome of course. But to make the most of the EU Single Market and to prevent the various national initiatives from going in different directions, guidance is needed at European level.

We want to offer the best incentives for investment by all market players; creating a truly European level playing field where established firms as well as emerging entrepreneurs can compete on the basis of talent, creativity and innovation. Nevertheless, this must happen in a way that does not call into question the basic principles of the regulatory framework or of competition law.

Sound policies and properly tailored regulation must be our key instruments. In this respect the Commission has three main responses:

  • The Telecom Reform, which will provide the updated pro-competitive framework to make these investments happen;

  • The ongoing work on the Recommendation on regulated access to Next Generation Access Networks – the NGA Recommendation; and

  • The recently adopted State Aid Guidelines for Broadband.

Member States governments are confronted with a double challenge. They need to give as many citizens as possible access to basic broadband, increasingly considered as a fundamental aspect of life. But they also need to offer to their citizens a state of the art infrastructure capable to support emerging internet services which require much larger capacity and speeds.

This means encouraging the deployment of next generation access networks (NGA). Investment in NGA is transforming the Internet: it is bringing new jobs and services many of which need high-speed uplinks as well and this requires the symmetry of fibre solutions.

A strategic approach to high-speed broadband will help to identify clear targets, provide a framework for benchmarking and sharing good practice experiences, but also for coordinating action in critical domains such as interoperability of fixed-wireless networks, radio spectrum, internet neutrality, and on pan-European public services.

So far, concerning the need to put in place the high-speed tracks. But what about the interesting destinations I have mentioned earlier? This brings me to my next priority.

….Copyright and the single market for creative content

Politicians nowadays talk in every Sunday speech about the need to counter the digitisation power of Google – but they still shy away from making Europe a strong player with regard to copyright. The new Lisbon Treaty will give Europe a powerful tool in this respect, as the new Article 118 will allow the creation of a European copyright title. I hope Europe will have the courage to make use of this soon.

Revenues from online content could more than quadruple by next year, to €8.3bn – if we finally bring about a functioning single market for creative content offers.

The growing importance of the Internet offers new possibilities for distributing creative content online, opening the door for consumers to access creative content online wherever they are and wherever they go. In theory.

Because in practice, innovation and creativity are seriously hampered by the fact that we still afford the luxury of having 27 diverging copyright systems in Europe. This often leads to territorial fragmentation of licensing conditions and hinders consumer access to content from websites outside their own country.

The next European Commission will have the task of developing a new strategy for growth and jobs and of re-invigorating the single market project. To put in practice the European Digital Agenda we have recently issued a Reflection Paper on Creative Content in a Digital Single Market.

This Reflection Paper points out the challenges facing both the content industries and consumers to deliver a wider choice of content from all around Europe; it also opens up a discussion on possible actions to overcome those challenges. Here are some examples.

  • First of all, we could facilitate the licensing of intellectual property rights for online services covering the territory of all 27 EU Member States. A streamlined pan-European and/or multi-territory licensing process could require introducing a structure, whereby once an online service is licensed in one EU territory, for example the territory with which the service provider is most closely linked, then this licence would cover all Community territories.

  • Another approach would consist of aggregating or consolidating the indispensable parts of 'online' rights into a unitary licence and so facilitate faster, easier rights clearance.

  • Furthermore, freely accessible ownership and licensing information on world repertoire is an option that has the potential to ease the operation of multi-territory and multi-repertoire licensing and thus help overcome current market fragmentation. Setting up a central repository in the form of interconnected online databases would be the best route.

  • Last, but not least, one could think of a more profound harmonisation of copyright laws in order to create a more coherent licensing framework at European level. A 'European Copyright Law' – established for instance by an EU regulation – has often been mooted as a way of establishing a truly unified legal framework that would deliver direct benefits. This would be an ambitious plan for the EU, but not an impossible one.

Whichever of these avenues we choose to go down, it must happen soon. If we do not very speedily make it easier and more consumer-friendly to access digital content, we could lose the greatest opportunity we have ever had, both to maximise the amount of content available to consumers and to secure more efficient protection of right-holders. The stakes are high: the development of a wide range of new and innovative business models, which would boost the creativity and competitiveness of the European economy.

Let me now go to the next key challenge, which is about tackling the consumer perspective.

….Tackling the consumer perspective

I have already mentioned it earlier, Europe with its 500 million consumers is the world's biggest consumer market. But we have to make sure that these millions of European consumers are really able to use digital services anywhere and any time in Europe.

Despite the tremendous advantages the Internet offers for pan-European services, competition and consumer choice, we still lack a functioning single market for online services provided to the end-consumer. The statistics are telling: Due to fragmentation of the rules and legal uncertainty, only 7% of all transactions made by European consumers over the web are cross-border. And an EU-wide test of 11,000 cross-border transactions has just revealed the almost absurd situation that exists at present: 61% of all orders placed by a consumer with an online shop located in another EU country failed, either because the trader refused, for legal reasons, to serve the consumer’s country, or for technical reasons.

A vibrant digital single market for commercial and public services and products also needs a framework for trustworthy online payments, including mobile payments, across Europe, and reliable interoperable systems. The protection of personal data, which come about in such online transactions, and the ability to preserve private information are of pivotal importance to guarantee trust in an online single market.

I am receiving more and more complaints and letters from citizens who are concerned about the risks to their personal data and their privacy. Our surveys also show that consumers feel uncomfortable in the online environment. A large number of weaker users are excluded or their rights are not protected.

There are many factors creating uncertainty: intrusive business practices that use personal data without respecting the users' will or even without informing them; losses of personal data due to inappropriate security measures; malicious activities such as phishing and spyware, to name just a few.

If this process continues, we may face a crisis of consumers' trust in online services. If citizens have no confidence in the digital economy and refuse to participate, this could undermine all our efforts to make the societal and economic benefits of the information society become a reality.

I intend therefore to look at the emerging challenges for privacy and trust in the broad information society, with a particular emphasis on some of the outstanding issues which were raised during the discussions on the revision of the ePrivacy Directive, such as targeted advertising, convergence, the use of IP addresses and on-line identifiers etc.

M-commerce is certainly one of the most exciting developments of the vibrant information society that we have in Europe and it is one of the most promising consumer services – provided that we get the conditions right. We have to leverage the European leadership in mobile communications and the 119% of Europeans who have a mobile phone. To do this m-commerce must become trustworthy and safe.

There are various ways in which the Commission contributes to ensuring the safety of m-commerce:

  • First of all, it is very important to realise that m-commerce relies on existing network and information infrastructures. The resilience of these infrastructures against all forms of threats is paramount to ensure European consumers' trust. This is also why I have proposed last spring an action plan on the protection of critical information infrastructure protection to strengthen the security and resilience of fixed and mobile network and information infrastructures.

  • Furthermore, we have to remember that a fundamental merit of the Internet is the fact that it allows new providers of online services and goods to enter the market with a very limited amount of resources.

It is for this reason that I am defending the fundamental principles that underlie the Internet architecture, including its openness and neutrality. I plan on being the first line of defence against any threats to these principles, which would not only undermine the development of a vibrant online mobile market and would unavoidably concentrate market power in a few players – which would then be hardly pressured by consumers and market forces to put in place reliable and safe procedures for online commerce and to develop exciting applications that could make the life of our citizens easier.

A digital single market designed around the rights of the users will be a driver for social innovation. It will respond to structural challenges in society, such as the demographic ageing, by promoting efficient and trustworthy systems modernising the way social care and health care are delivered to Europeans with new service creation and new jobs.

Talking today, on the day when walls have disappeared, the digital market I see is one without barriers; it is a digital market accessible and usable by all, including the weaker users. I believe the way we should ensure this is by developing together a European Digital Disability Act.

….Developing a 'European Cloud'

In my first announcements of the priorities for the European Digital Agenda I have underlined that we have to get Europe's SMEs on board if we want to succeed with this new strategy. Europe has 23 million SMEs, which make up 99% of all firms and stand for over 90% of Europe's workforce. But these businesses have to a large extent not yet jumped on the ICT train. Only 9% of them use electronic invoices, and only 11% of them have technology-based Human Resources management systems.

I see therefore great potential for cloud computing applications to help Europe's businesses into the true ICT age, at lower costs compared to traditional IT company solutions.

Accessing computing power over the web instead of investing in technologies and applications would not only be cheaper but also easier for businesses that then don't have to buy and maintain technologies and IT applications and services.

But this is not only an area where businesses should act, this is in particular an area where I call upon Europe's public administrations to take the lead to deliver what citizens need today – the 'Gov 2.0' experience. Europe's public services cannot escape any longer collaboration with their users! In the future, eGovernment will have to move from a 'One size fits all' to 'Taylor-made customised services'.

Thanks to cloud computing, public services will have the chance to be provided anywhere, anytime and anyhow and to anybody. This means that public services will become inclusive, personalised and more user-driven than ever.

I am sure that cloud computing will put public services upside down, as it requires public organisations to become part of a new ecosystem with clear links to other organisations (not necessarily public) and their users.

Two important preconditions need to be met to achieve user empowerment through cloud computing: (1) a higher level of interoperability between public services within and between Member States and (2) a system of electronic authentication. We have the technologies to implement the Cloud, so let us get on with it!

The fifth item on my list is the enormous contribution that ICT can make to achieve our overarching goals on environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and climate change.

….Activating the ICT contribution to achieving the Copenhagen goals

Today everybody talks about 'Green ICT' and its potential to contribute to Europe's objectives of a low-carbon economy and society. The report commissioned by the Swedish Presidency for this conference is even called 'A green knowledge society'. And it is right – using ICT to reduce our carbon footprint must be one of our primary goals if we want to achieve the 20-20-20 targets.

Green ICT is of course about ‘greening’ ICT itself, starting with reducing its dependence on energy but it is also about ICT’s potential in 'greening' our economy. The European Commission has recently adopted a Recommendation 'on mobilising Information and Communications Technologies to facilitate the transition to an energy-efficient, low-carbon economy' which covers both sides of this issue and is addressed directly to those who can make a difference: the ICT sector itself and public authorities in particular.

First and foremost, the ICT sector should make a collective effort to reduce its own footprint which is currently set to double by 2020 due to the increasing use of ICT. The Recommendation therefore invites the sector to adopt for the first time by 2010 a common measurement framework to quantify its own energy and carbon footprint leading to energy efficiency targets that should exceed the EU 2020 targets, already in 2015.

As for ICT’s potential in greening the rest of the economy, the emerging green-tech market will grow to more than a trillion Euros over the next decade. The "smart" in smart metering, in the smart grid infrastructure and in future smart and sustainable cities will be enabled by ICTs.

The first step in this transition of the grid, and eventually our cities, will be the introduction of smart metering. The internal energy market Directive invites Member States to ensure that 80% of consumers are equipped with smart metering by 2020. The idea set out in our Recommendation is to have Member States agree already in 2010 what a smart meter should look like. This makes sense given that some Member States – Sweden included – have already introduced smart metering.

Just consider the following: If businesses in Europe were to replace only 20% of all business trips by video conferencing, we could save more than 22 million tons of CO2 per year. And cloud computing could lead to electricity savings in computing activity of up to 80%.

Let us also not forget what ICT could do for safer, smarter and greener cars in Europe. I firmly believe the Digital Agenda for Europe cannot afford to turn a blind eye to its ecological potential, which in turn can open up new business opportunities for European ICT companies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude let me make it clear: One of the biggest challenges ahead will be to achieve a true digital single market. The five priorities I have illustrated deal all with different aspects of how to address the walls and barriers that still hamper the single market project.

Achieving the digital single market to the benefit of European businesses, consumers and governments has been our overall policy goal since we launched i2010. But we are not there yet. And it is getting more and more urgent to take down the still existing walls and barriers if we are to succeed in the coming years.

I therefore call on all of you to help build a n ambitious Digital Agenda for Europe that will help us master the challenges that lie ahead.

Thank you


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