Speech by Vice-President Ansip at a debate organised by the European Internet Foundation
Ladies and gentlemen,
This month's tragic events in France shocked the world, not only Europe.
They reminded me of the global power and reach of the internet, and of how it can be abused - by some - as a vehicle to fuel hatred and violence.
Freedom of the media, including the internet, is a vital channel for the freedom of speech. This fundamental principle requires protection and respect:
- protection of the internet as a forum for free expression;
- respect for the law, so the internet is not exploited for hatred and incitement.
As Vice-President in charge of the Digital Single Market, it is my responsibility to make sure that we create a safer internet for Europe as we embrace the digital revolution. A more trustworthy environment for our citizens and businesses.
Safety and security in the online world are paramount.
Trust is a 'must' – on all levels:
- whether we are fighting against cybercrime or extremist websites;
- working to prevent the misuse of consumers' personal data;
- or strengthening the rights of online shoppers across the European Union.
Europe needs a reliable and safe internet, because every sector of society now uses digital tools and online networks. We cannot get the best out of the opportunities the internet offers if we do not trust it, or if we are unable to connect properly with each other.
If people do not, or cannot, trust e-services, they will never use them.
This is one of my main tasks as we build a Digital Single Market and make the most of the growing potential of the internet and new technologies.
My vision is for a digital area:
- where goods, people, services and capital can move freely;
- where everyone can access and carry out online activities, across borders and with complete ease, safely and securely;
- where there is fair competition, regardless of nationality or place of residence, underpinned by a clear legal structure.
Unfortunately, we are still a long way from achieving that vision. There are still too many barriers and restrictions, which means that Europe is losing out on unexploited potential.
Just as an example, let me mention Europe's rules on copyright, which need to be updated to make them fit for the digital age.
It is more than frustrating when you are unable to access online material – music, films, anything that you have paid good money for – when you travel to another country and find yourself blocked from doing so.
Today's copyright rules also vary a great deal around the EU's 28 countries.
There are so many national exceptions, differences and limitations that the system is not workable for a pan-European market.
Copyright is just one example of a restriction holding back the full development of the Digital Single Market.
But there are many others: take the high cost of getting a parcel sent when you buy something via a website in one EU country and want it delivered to your home address in another. This often costs much more than for national delivery.
People trying to buy online face endless obstacles. It is time to get rid of them. Most have already gone in the EU's physical market. Why not yet in the digital? All that is possible in a physical single market must be possible in a digital one.
The single market is the foundation for the European Union. But it is not yet working properly in a digital context. And to remain relevant, the freedoms of the EU's single market have to go digital.
The challenge ahead is to transform Europe's "physical" internal market into a digital one. We will meet this challenge head-on, with concrete and practical initiatives to encourage:
- trust and choice
- competition and growth
- predictability and compliance
- the secure and free flow of information and data across borders.
I am working with a group of fellow Commissioners whose areas of responsibility touch on digital matters to draw up a strategy for the Digital Single Market.
We will present this strategy later during Latvia's EU Presidency.
It will contain several thematic strands. I have already mentioned two of these: building trust and confidence; removing restrictions. It will set out how the Commission plans to move forward over the next five years – and include plans for new legislation and the updating of existing laws.
We will also work to build the digital economy, looking closely at cloud computing and the data economy as a focus for revitalising European industry.
We will promote e-society so that Europeans have the skills to get ahead in the digital age, and make sure that more investment goes into ICT research and innovation.
However, none of these objectives can be achieved without a properly functioning single market in telecommunications. World-class networks and services to underpin the delivery of digital services across all of Europe.
Seamless communications and online access; fast, reliable and secure for every home and every business. Connectivity – everywhere. We need it for Europe's competitiveness and to improve the provision of public services.
A single telecoms market is an essential building block of the Digital Single Market. Without it, we cannot achieve the rest.
There are three main problem areas to be tackled:
- irritating roaming charges when people go online and communicate from a different EU country;
- inconsistent policies across the EU that mean we are not maximising our wireless capacity;
- a lack of net neutrality. On this last point, let me return to what I said at the start: the internet is universal and should remain free and open. We should put this principle into law to make sure that it stays that way.
The Digital Single Market should be a free and open space that anyone, and everyone, can access without restrictions. Individual liberties are at the heart of everything we do in the European Union.
At the same time, freedom of expression is also about freedom of innovation and being a digital entrepreneur. The Digital Single Market aims to stimulate both of these for the benefit of Europe's people, business and wider economy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is so much more to say about such a vast and varied subject that spans many different policy areas. I know that you will have your own questions and views about how Europe should move ahead with building the Digital Single Market. I look forward to hearing them.
Thank you for your attention. I am happy to take your questions.