One of the Commission’s long-time dreams, according to the recent Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, has been an EU “single market” where people can trade without barriers between all of its Member States. The digital revolution that launched buying, selling and services online is helping this single market to become more of a reality. A single market that functions well naturally leads to more choice among the products and services that are available to us all, at more competitive prices.
The Digital Single Market: A reality by 2020?
It still surprises me to hear, though, that the amount of commerce that crosses European borders is still pretty low. According to the European Commission
, cross-border services account for only 5% of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP). Another report
found that only 21% of EU businesses even do electronic commerce across borders, and only 6-7% of consumers use the Internet to make cross-border purchases.
What can be done to improve this? The consultation on a Single Market Act
includes no less than 50 different initiatives that the EU proposes to deliver, in order to try to complete the EU single market (including the “Digital Single Market”) under its Europe 2020 program
. This is an ambitious effort, but well worth the potential benefits.
I was glad to see that intellectual property (IP) is high on the agenda. So much of the value in the digital marketplace lies in the intangible inventions and works that go into technology products and services, as well as into the digital content that we all want to use and purchase online. The EU IP system is generally very well suited to the digital age. The specific fixes mentioned by the Commission to create an EU-wide Patent (which seems to be moving ahead
this month), to streamline collecting society copyright licensing, and to address counterfeiting and piracy both in the EU and with trading partners, should all help.
There are lots of other broader issues to be addressed, and the Commission seems keen to take them on: reducing “red tape” and costs for small companies, making electronic security and identification systems more workable across borders, rationalizing communications spectrum, and making consumer rules more consistent from country to country.
Other Commission initiatives in the Digital Agenda for Europe
program are looking at important related issues. How can data protection and data retention rules be more workable in the cross-border world of electronic commerce and cloud computing
? How can the EU cooperate better with its traditional partners to address questions of online jurisdiction and consistent international practice?
All of these are helpful ideas for reducing the barriers that both consumers and businesses face in trying to do business across borders in both the physical and digital world. Perhaps we have a real shot at seeing a Digital Single Market within the EU by 2020!