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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Building a Connected Continent
Global Symposium for Regulators 2013 /Warsaw
3 July 2013
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Thank you for inviting me to close this panel. It's good to see many from across the globe, facing up to the challenge of a changing world. And that reminds me all the more one of how we need to act in Europe. To act strategically. With an eye not to yesterday's powers – but to tomorrow's opportunities. Truly thinking European: to deliver the single market jackpot at home, and be heard by international partners abroad.
You raise three topics today. Tackling unemployment, focusing policies on humans, and regulators as partners in innovation. Very relevant: I couldn't have chosen three better myself. And I want to take today's opportunity to talk about what those ideas mean, and why they are important to our plans to build a connected continent in Europe.
Our economic situation remains very worrying. Unemployment is troublingly high; a whole generation risk missing out on jobs, opportunities, decent lives. That's something that keeps me awake at night. And we won't change it unless we stimulate our economy. That has to be our focus.
At the same time we have a huge opportunity. Our world is changing; it's going digital. And for telecommunications in particular. Those services are increasingly not about voice calls or text messages, but an infinite array of services based on data. From videoconferencing to 3D printing. They are based on a network, the Internet network, that is inherently global, that doesn't need to respect distances or national borders. And we have an increasingly integrated single market in Europe, one where businesses operate across multiple sites and multiple countries.
With the right connectivity, we can capitalise on those chances. But to do so regulation must adapt and respond.
Europe was once the home of huge telecoms innovation. From the GSM standard itself to the handsets that use it. But now we are sliding behind. We have a market that is fragmented, lacking dynamism and scale; and we have an economy that suffers accordingly. The result is our networks are slower and less widespread than international competitors. For example, the USA, Japan and South Korea have 88% of the world's 4G connections, while Europe has just 6. Very soon, the Commission will be coming forward with legislative proposals to start changing that. To bring down barriers, so operators find it easier to run services across borders. A more consistent legal framework for operating across borders; more consistent products for access to fixed networks; and spectrum more aligned across the continent. Then Europe can enjoy innovative services over fast networks. The boost to GDP could be well over one hundred billion per year. That's essential for citizens, for companies, and for competitiveness.
Second, you are discussing policies centred on people. Quite right too.
I want people - and businesses - to enjoy the best Europe has to offer, wherever they are, without artificial barriers. With more consistent protections and quality of service. With a clear guarantee of net neutrality – one that allows innovative new services to grow. With a fair deal in Internet services, transparency and genuine choice. And with fairer prices. After all, a single market should mean seamless service. And that means no more unjustified, unfairly high prices. Wherever you roam in Europe. And even if your call crosses an EU internal border.
Putting people at the centre isn't just something for politicians: it's also sound business sense. After all, companies aren't in competition with their customers – both groups benefit if businesses match and meet customer needs. Give people what they need, quality services at fair prices, and everyone can win. This is about making the pie bigger – not fighting over crumbs.
And the third thing you need is a strong support from regulators. A digital society needs the right balance of stability and flexibility, investment and innovation, competition and choice. The right regulation can definitely deliver the right balance. And equally, regulators can shake up markets: so they correspond to new, digital realities. Help operators adapt to face the future. Break us out of a vicious circle – one where operators plead for the regulation that supports their outdated business model, in turn designed to fit outdated regulation.
Equally, regulators should not be tempted to go too far, and over-regulate. That's a sure way to constrain innovation by market players. On the contrary: we should focus regulation only where it is needed, while lightening the load elsewhere. That is all the more important at the moment: when our priority is not just opening up access to existing networks, but to create new ones: a transition that requires significant investment. Let's do our jobs – but let's also give the market its proper responsibility, to innovate and progress.
And likewise, we should focus not on regulation for its own sake, not on institutions or systems: but on outcomes. I do not want to create new super - regulators or centralise powers for its own sake: I want to take the pragmatic steps that can deliver the digital Europe we need, achievably, flexibly, and fast. At stake are the opportunities of a borderless, open network. Can we capture them? I think so. But only if we think European. Again, break out of a vicious circle where ingraining the status quo prevents planning for the future. So I absolutely want national regulators who are strong and independent. But I also call on you to have the right mentality, think beyond sectorial interests, think European and look to the future. Then we can make a change that really delivers for Europe.
That is my dream. Information and communications technology is essential infrastructure, as important to our economy as transport networks or energy grids. So telecoms regulations are not just for the telecoms sector: they affect every sector that relies on connectivity for its competitiveness, from industry to healthcare, tourism to television, and more. I am fighting for a framework fit for that digital future: I hope you can join me.