Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the European Commission shares his views on creating the the Digital Single Market in the EU.
While Europe is facing several crises, it is more important than ever to focus on our future and build the foundations of a better European Union. I am convinced that this cannot be achieved without a Digital Single Market. The internet is part of our daily life: studying, working, buying, selling, watching films, listening to music online. New technologies are in all sectors, from health to transport and culture. And they know no borders.
This is why creating a Digital Single Market is and remains one of the priorities of the European Commission. Six months after taking office, we adopted in May 2015 an ambitious strategy including 16 initiatives. We have now presented more than half of them: they are on the table of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. This is about modernising existing rules in key areas such as e-commerce, telecoms, audiovisual media, cybersecurity and copyright. We want to encourage innovation based on data which is the new fuel of the economy.
In this article, I will focus on the two packages of initiatives that we presented in May. The first will boost cross-border online trading across Europe: removing barriers, raising consumer confidence and ending discrimination. The second responds to new digital realities, with a modern policy approach to online platforms and broadcasting rules.
Let me begin with the e-commerce package. We want to open up the e-commerce market so that it becomes truly pan-European, with fair conditions for consumers and business across the EU’s internal borders. While more and more goods and services are traded over the internet, cross-border online sales within the EU are only growing slowly. This should change.
Consumers as well as businesses deserve better. They should not be limited to their domestic markets. They should be able to make the best of the opportunities offered by Europe’s single market in the digital age.
Our package addresses three main areas:
First: it will prevent unjustified discrimination, online as well as offline. In a true single market, you should not be discriminated against based on your nationality, residence or place of establishment. However, that does not mean making companies sell or deliver goods in every EU market. But if a consumer comes to their online store, they should be treated as if they were locals – not treated differently. But this would not include the obligation to deliver: traders would not be required to deliver cross-border but sell to them as to customers from their own country.
Second: it will increase transparency of parcel delivery prices, encourage competition, and make regulatory oversight of cross-border parcel delivery services more effective. This will help consumers get a better and affordable deal, also a wider choice. It will help small e-retailers to reach new customers. It will create more business for delivery providers. And to be clear: there is no intention of imposing a single price across Europe.
Third: our package will raise consumer and SME trust in e-commerce by clarifying the nature of unfair commercial practices and strengthening the enforcement of consumer rights across borders. It will also strengthen cooperation between national consumer protection authorities.
Together, these measures aim to remove the main barriers to e-commerce.
Online platforms are a new reality to which Europe should respond - and should embrace. In a short time, they have transformed our daily lives: how we sell, shop and travel; how we learn, create and are entertained. They bring many benefits to consumers, to wider society, to industry, business and SMEs. The guiding principle and objective is to create the right conditions for platforms to innovate, scale up and grow in the Digital Single Market. But they should do so in a fair and open atmosphere. That means equal conditions for fair and open competition. Everyone involved in the market – traditional and online service providers – should play by the same rules, with no discrimination. Our assessment has shown that platforms are innovative, have a positive impact on our economy, and increase competitiveness. It shows that the EU is quite good in areas such as the app economy, health, finance and the collaborative economy.
In order to thrive, all platforms – including European ones – need a legal environment that gives them certainty. This is why we are very clear in our communication: there will be no horizontal new regulation or regulator for platforms. We will not change the current e-commerce framework and its liability provisions. Of course, platforms – as well as all internet providers and online intermediaries – have to respect EU law and fundamental rights. They also have to act responsibly regarding content, and keep their activities transparent. These are important principles. This is why we are taking a problem-driven approach. It means that if we see an issue with platforms in relation to copyright, we solve it in our copyright rules. Our next proposals related to the modernisation of the EU copyright framework are foreseen in the autumn. If there is an issue related to telecoms, we solve it in our telecom package.
The first steps in this have already been taken, with our proposal on the audio-visual media services directive, where online platforms are a part of this instrument’s new scope. The principles that I mentioned also apply to broadcasting, where the significant presence of online platforms and video-on-demand providers has transformed viewing habits and behaviour. EU rules need to change to reflect this new reality – and make sure that everyone follows the same rules. Since it has worked well, there is no need to change the ‘country of origin’ principle. Media service providers will continue to be subject to the rules of the country where they are based.
Our proposal will also bring more flexibility to advertising rules, and bolster our efforts to promote European creative work by raising its prominence. It will strengthen protection of minors who go online to view content. It will strengthen the role played by national media regulators.
I look forward to working closely with the European Parliament and EU Member States so that together, we can turn these two important packages of proposals, and the whole Digital Single Market strategy, into a reality. It is essential to build the future that Europe needs: one where all Europeans will gain.
Andrus Ansip was appointed Vice-President of the European Commission with responsibility for the Digital Single Market in November 2014. Before moving to Brussels, he was a member of both the Estonian and European Parliaments. This followed almost nine years in Tallinn spent as Estonia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, when Ansip worked with both centre-right and centre-left parties to lead three different coalition governments. During his time as Prime Minister, he also acted as chairman of Estonia’s liberal Reform Party.
Ansip first entered national politics in September 2004 when he became Minister of the Economy. Up to this point, his career was spent in Estonia’s second largest city of Tartu where he was born in 1956. Ansip was Mayor of Tartu for six years after working in banking and business. A chemistry graduate from the city’s university, Andrus Ansip is married with three children.