European Union

Digital economy & society

Digital economy & society

Europe's digital revolution – from smartphones to ultra-high-speed internet, the app economy and research into future and emerging technologies – is driven largely by technological and market innovation. The EU has played a vital supporting role by:

  • defining European telecoms rules
  • standing up for consumers
  • setting technical standards
  • supporting research & innovation.

A consumer-friendly digital single market

The internet and digital technologies are transforming our world. Completing the digital single market will:

  • boost competitive growth
  • transform Europe’s industrial sector
  • create new products & services for this expanding market.

Existing online barriers restrict access to goods and services, as:

  • only 15% of people shop online from another EU country
  • Internet companies & start-ups cannot make full use of online opportunities
  • only 7% of small businesses sell goods or services across the EU's borders
  • businesses & governments are not benefiting from digital tools as much as they might.

The idea behind the digital single market is to move from 28 national markets to a single one. A fully functional digital single market could contribute €415 bn per year to our economy, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

The Digital Single Market Strategy, which includes 16 initiatives ranging from copyright to cyber security runs up to the end of 2016. It is based on:

  • better access for consumers & businesses throughout Europe to digital goods & services
  • creating the right conditions & a level playing field for digital networks & innovative services to flourish
  • maximising the growth potential of the digital economy.

Driving economic growth

Digital technologies are central to Europe's economic growth. Yet while 250 m Europeans use the internet daily, 18% have never used it at all.

The digital economy is growing 7 times as fast as the rest of the economy. Much of this growth has been fuelled by broadband internet. Today's high-speed broadband networks are having just as great an impact as electricity and transport networks a century ago. They are also paving the way for innovative services such as eHealth, smart cities and data-driven manufacturing.

The European Commission is encouraging the spread of high-speed broadband through:

As part of the digital single market strategy, the Commission will also overhaul EU telecoms rules to create incentives for investment in high-speed connectivity. The information and communication technology (ICT) sector represents nearly 5% of the EU economy and generates a quarter of total business expenditure. Investments in ICT account for half of all European productivity growth.

Regulating the market

The EU's regulatory role has developed to keep pace with new technologies and market trends:

  • introducing rules covering all electronic communications networks & services
  • ensuring basic broadband for everyone in the EU
  • encouraging competition by preventing the old national telecoms monopolies from maintaining a dominant position with respect to services like high-speed internet access.

The rules are applied independently by the authorities in each EU country, with national regulators coordinating their policies at EU level through the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).


Manuscript completed in November 2014

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series

Digital Single Market

Factsheet published in June 2017

This publication is part of the 'THE EU AND' series

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