Ladies and gentlemen,
It's a pleasure to be with you today. Thank you for inviting me.
I would think that everyone here today is already aware of the advantages and benefits that digital transformation can bring to an economy and society.
When we look at Europe as a whole, however - not just individual countries - we are still a long way from a truly connected digital single market.
It means that we are losing out on unexploited potential.
You know the numbers: only 14% of small and medium-sized businesses use the internet to sell online. Only 12% of European consumers shop across borders.
I have no illusions about the scale of the challenge ahead. It spans many areas that are technically and politically difficult, operationally demanding. And it's certainly not going to be a quick fix.
The world is going digital. From commerce to communication, entertainment to education and energy.
Online tools offer a fast, flexible alternative for almost every kind of business.
Europe needs to keep up with the digital revolution, preferably at the forefront.
Our single market needs to adapt.
Not just because of the technologies we know today, but also because of those we know are on the horizon and will be here tomorrow.
The next generation of tools is already there and coming online. Cloud computing, 5G networks, the internet of things, big data.
Internet innovation is about speed and scale. If a company can't get that, it won't survive. But you can't really get that scale yet in Europe, because it is still divided by national borders when it comes to digital.
As everyone here knows, there are a lot of barriers to remove before we will see light at the end of the tunnel.
What Europe needs now is a clear long-term strategy: to stimulate the digital environment, to minimise legal uncertainty and create fair conditions for all.
We have already started work on this. The work is divided into six main thematic areas, with Commissioners whose areas of responsibility touch on digital issues all working closely together.
One area, for example, is building trust and confidence in the online world.
I will make sure that Europe moves further on consumer rights and that the consumer rights directive is fully implemented. We will need to simplify and modernise rules for online purchases and digital products. And we will need to conclude negotiations on data protection rules and cyber-security.
Another work area is about removing restrictions and preventing new ones from appearing. Nobody should be discriminated against in their online activities in the EU. This will be about reforming and modernising copyright rules and getting rid of unjustified curbs on transfer and access to digital assets.
I want to see an end to geo-blocking – there's no place for it. Achieving this will benefit everyone, and so will getting rid of undue price discriminations.
Consumers need to be able to buy the best products at the best prices, wherever they are in Europe. Companies, especially small and medium-sized ones, need to have instant access to a market of 500 million consumers.
We will work to build the digital economy, looking closely at cloud computing and the data economy as a future focus for revitalising European industry.
We'll be promoting e-society so that Europeans have the skills needed to get ahead in the digital age.
None of these objectives can be achieved without a properly functioning single market in telecoms.
By that, I mean world-class networks and communication services to underpin the delivery of digital services across all of Europe.
Seamless communications and online access.
Fast, reliable, secure connectivity – everywhere. We need it for Europe's competitiveness and to improve the provision of public services.
This is why the Telecoms Single Market package is so important. It is designed to stimulate and attract the investment that Europe's telecoms sector needs.
I know we are in a critical phase. But we should remember where we started and why we need it.
Not only did the European Council already ask for this in October 2013, consumers and businesses have also been waiting a long time to see progress towards a single European telecoms market.
Despite the work of three successive EU Presidencies - and especially given the efforts of the last one - we are all waiting for Council to start negotiations with the European Parliament.
I encourage EU ministers to intensify and complete the technical discussions so that these negotiations can start as soon as possible.
I really hope that an agreement can be reached over the coming months. Otherwise, I fear that we may lose momentum.
That said, I still believe that there needs to be more ambition to make the package worthwhile. Without it, we won't move forward in any meaningful way, which won't help either people or business.
And the whole objective is to make everybody's lives easier.
What does 'more ambition' mean?
Let me say first what it does not mean.
It does not mean looking backwards to yesterday’s services. I will continue to push for an end to roaming surcharges in Europe.
The reason is simple. They have no place in the telecoms and digital single markets that Europe so badly needs.
They remain an irritant and an anomaly – and frankly, they give telecoms companies a bad name with their own customers.
'More ambition' means, primarily, that we urgently need to break down barriers between national telecoms markets. That will not happen by having weak rules that appear to bring minimum standards into line with each other, but in fact allow each country to go its own way.
The agreement should clarify spectrum, net neutrality rules and roaming.
I also believe that advancing with the package is in the interests of telecoms companies. Cross-border consolidation in a more dynamic EU market should increase choice, because operators will be able to provide their services on a pan-European basis.
I want to allow innovation to thrive and for industry to seize the most promising business opportunities.
At the same time, we need investment in networks and more competition in telecoms markets so that all online users get the maximum benefits.
To achieve this balance, the best stimulus is effective competition, which is linked directly with consumers being able to switch service provider and to have proper choice in a vibrant open market.
It's about giving people and businesses the freedom and a fair chance to take advantage of the great opportunities offered by the internet.
This brings me onto the subject of spectrum, which is not just a technical issue.
Spectrum is the key raw material for the Digital Single Market.
It can't work properly without connectivity that is high quality, high speed and decently priced.
Open spectrum is the basis for a digitally-enabled society and digital demand.
But the more this natural resource is divided, the less efficient it is. Ideally, EU countries should be working together much more on allocating spectrum.
After all, radio waves know no borders. Why should the internet? We don't need national fragmentation of internet traffic.
On net neutrality, as I have said before, this concept has to be solid and clearly defined. Everyone should be able to access services and applications, and to distribute online content, without being blocked or throttled - regardless of the country they are in.
The internet is universal. We want to keep it like that.
But if 28 countries have 28 different approaches, it makes the market even more fragmented. To avoid that happening, the principle of net neutrality needs to be enshrined into EU law – also to provide clarity and certainty for investors.
Ladies and gentlemen,
To continue the theme of investment: as telecoms companies, you know that Europe really needs more investment in digital. There is still a significant funding gap, especially in rural high-speed broadband. More than four homes in every five in rural areas across the EU do not have fast coverage.
For me, everyone should have the right of access to quality online services.
It's a basic requirement in the 21st century.
But that isn't cheap or easy to achieve. It needs a good deal of investment.
First and foremost, it is up to those in the market to invest in the necessary infrastructure. However, the market cannot always provide all that is needed.
That's where public authorities have a role to play.
Firstly, by providing the right and adequate regulatory environment, which we plan to achieve through the Digital Single Market strategy. And secondly, by incentivising and leveraging more private investment.
The EU does a good deal towards this, in terms of actual funding, programmes aiming at cost reductions, innovative instruments for smart investment.
I'm sure you're aware of the investment plan announced recently by President Jean-Claude Juncker.
It is a package of measures designed to unlock public and private investments in the real economy of more than €300 billion over the next three years.
This is good news for broadband and digital projects. Of course, we are still in the early days and the pipeline of projects to receive funding has yet to be defined. But I have no doubt that digital will play a significant role – with communication networks as well as infrastructure.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Juncker investment plan is a new opportunity to kick-start investment and growth in Europe. But it will only work if European firms take the opportunity to invest in their own and Europe's future, and the EU's Member States also commit to regulatory reform.
That is how we can bring digital opportunities for growth and employment to enterprises, entrepreneurs and citizens, by making sure that high-quality connectivity becomes more widely available in all corners of Europe.
It is the foundation for the Digital Single Market. The future for Europe.
Thank you for your attention.