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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Building digital bridges: Transatlantic cooperation in ICT

Washington, 28 May 2015


Speech by Vice-President Ansip, in charge of the Digital Single Market, at the Brookings Institute

Ladies and gentlemen

It is a pleasure to be with you today at this most prestigious of institutions. Thank you for inviting me.

Europe and the United States enjoy a long history of strong economic and political ties. That much we all know.

In terms of trade and investment, the transatlantic partnership is the world's most significant. Put together, our economies account for about half of global GDP and nearly a third of trade flows.

Fewer people may know that a tremendous amount of this trade is underpinned by digital goods and digital flows.

According to a Brookings report, data flows between the United States and Europe are the highest in the world—50 percent more than those between the U.S. and Asia. Almost double the flows between the U.S. and Latin America.

Digital flows have become part of today's global trade reality.

Along with the growth in internet access, they are driving an increasing amount of transatlantic trade and investment.

Europe may not be home to the world's most famous internet companies. But Europe is a leader in ICT sectors like robotics and embedded systems, where it has 31% of world market share.

We are also a major global exporter of digital services.

European companies are major digital traders in many different sectors: banks, car manufacturers, logistics companies, to name a few.

That said, it is clear that Europe can do better.

In the physical sense, we have a solid internal market that integrates more than 500 million Europeans across 28 countries.

But speaking digitally, there is still a long way to go before all Europeans can enjoy the same freedoms online as they already do offline.

Breaking through these barriers to build a Digital Single Market is a top priority for the European Commission.

-     to unlock the potential of the digital economy for Europe.

-     to tear down a series of regulatory walls; to move from 28 splintered national markets to a single one.

That does not mean replacing them with regional markets.

It means building a unified space where Europe's single market in the physical world is extended into the world of bits and bytes.

Our focus is firmly on creating economic growth, employment and making the most of the digital age.

It is also about promoting and stimulating innovation.

Neither the European Union nor Brussels is able to create innovation. But what we can do is to create the right environment for that innovation to happen.

Once fully in place and working, the Digital Single Market could contribute €415 billion per year to our economy and generate hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

It will provide opportunities for trade, investment, innovation.

Not only for Europe, but globally – also for the United States.

Our strategy for achieving this will be based on three policy pillars.

Firstly, we will improve access to online goods and services across Europe, for people and businesses.

We will do this by removing barriers such as the high cost of cross-border parcel delivery, and tackling new means of discrimination in the online world such as unjustified geo-blocking.

Then, we will create the right conditions for digital networks and services.

That means high-quality telecoms infrastructure that works smoothly across Europe, backed up by the right regulatory environment to promote competition, investment and innovation. It will include addressing areas such as the role of new intermediaries like online marketplaces and search services.

And we will prepare for the future: to maximise the growth potential of the digital economy, with a firm focus on all aspects of data and areas of new growth, such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things.

A Digital Single Market means more opportunities. For Europe, certainly – but not exclusively.

It means a seamless area where people and business can trade, innovate and interact legally, safely and securely.

It means businesses being able to make full use of new technologies; and small businesses in particular to cross the EU with "just one click".

Before taking any next steps, we would like to collect all views – and that means yours as well.

The European Union has a transparent and solid way of preparing legislation through consultation and impact assessments.

In that respect, I believe we set a good example.

Ladies and gentlemen

Europe's future Digital Single Market will provide equal conditions where all companies offering their goods or services in the EU are subject to the same rules - data and consumer protection, for example.

This will guarantee legal certainty and is ultimately good for investments and business, whichever country they come from.

We want to encourage companies – whether European or not – to develop, invest and make the most out of our massive marketplace.

Uniform rules, not today's patchwork of 28 different systems, are the gateway to a golden business opportunity.

I wish that such an open and welcoming attitude was common practice in other digital markets. This is unfortunately not the case.

We have situations where EU companies face local content requirements for using ICT equipment. Some countries make them disclose commercially confidential information. Others put restrictions on foreign ownership and allow them no access – or only limited - to public procurement.

I said just now that the idea of the Digital Single Market was to tear down regulatory walls.

Let me stress that again. Tearing down walls, not putting up new ones.

Neither is the Digital Single Market about making laws to disadvantage Europe's competitors.

The aim is not to reduce competition in the EU, but to make sure that Europe can compete globally - for our companies to scale-up faster and provide services across all EU countries.

Our doors are open, not closed. There is no anti-American agenda and no Fortress Europe, as I continue to read in some media.

Accusations of EU protectionism are not only wrong, they are old as well.

We heard them some 25 years ago. Then too, we were advancing with the single market. We were not only doing it for the good of Europe, but also for others outside Europe to benefit.

The same as we are doing today with the Digital Single Market.

Here, I would like to quote former President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors who said: "Unlike the attempts at regional autarky in the 1930s, the European Community has shown for a long time that it is a factor for growth in international trade and its increasing liberalisation".

With the Digital Single Market, we have been accused of unfairly targeting U.S. tech companies.

This is not true:

-     between 2010 and 2014, there were 81 companies involved in EU antitrust cases. Only 21 of them were based in the United States;

-     there were 231 companies involved in cartel decisions. Just 17 of them were based here;

-     remedies in merger cases affected 35 U.S.-based companies. The total number of cases was 145.


I think these figures speak for themselves.

In all competition cases, we are indifferent to the nationality of the companies involved. There is no bias. For us, there is only one bottom line: that any company operating within EU territory complies with our treaty rules.

Yes, there are some differences between Europe and the United States in perception, occasional differences of approach – to regulation, for example.

There are occasional disagreements and tensions. Frankly, that is not unusual.

I still believe, however, that there is far more that we have in common than what may divide us. That is as true for technology as for any other area.

We cannot allow any differences to drive a wedge between us, nor to forget our tradition of working positively together to tackle common challenges.

The best answers come when we work together, deepening the digital connection between Europe and the United States.


Ladies and gentlemen

I started by talking about the importance of digital trade, which has driven tremendous growth in the U.S. economy. Creating a Digital Single Market in Europe, a digital-savvy market that is also friendly to U.S. investment, will also create growth and opportunities for U.S. companies, not just European ones.

But we need the support of our partners – the United States in particular - if the global digital economy is to remain open.

The TTIP negotiations provide a unique, a historic, opportunity to remove trade barriers between us and show global leadership in free trade. This is how we allow innovation to thrive in the global digital economy.

Since digital technologies know no borders, international collaboration is needed on many wider issues, such as cyber-security and common technical standards.

Or internet governance, a vital area where Europe and the United States should stand together to create a leadership model for the world.

I believe there is strong political will on both sides of the Atlantic to safeguard the open internet, while making it possible to develop innovative services provided that they do not harm its availability and quality.

Net neutrality is a good example of where we can - and should - work together. This is a key element of the Digital Single Market and the European Commission is committed to turning this principle into EU law. We are building for the long term, therefore we need legislation to do that.

In fact, I do not think that the U.S. and European approaches on open internet are very different. They go in the same direction and are based on similar principles that:

-     people should not be unfairly blocked or slowed down when using the internet;

-     there is no paid prioritisation;

-     content and application providers can make their content available without discrimination.

Ladies and gentlemen

We are each other's first and foremost partners.

We complement each other and it makes a lot of sense for us to work closely.

When it comes to digital matters, both sides have issues to deal with.

Separately, as well as together.

Let us build on our longstanding history of trust, cooperation and mutual understanding to further the global digital market, to defend a free open internet.

Let us take this great opportunity to work together for a bright digital future.

Thank you for your attention.



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