Disrupting Europe: From laggard to digital frontrunner

Summary Digitisation has the potential both to disrupt and develop Europe. No citizen, company or decision-maker will be left untouched by the consequences. The EU must now fully embrace digitisation, and this report proposes a more proactive and ambitious digital strategy across all aspects of European society.

Over the next few years, the evolution of digital technology will fundamentally change our way of life. From the work places to our private lives and in the ways we participate in politics. Everybody will experience impact from this digital transformation, and mobile online services are available 24/7.
Some companies and consumers are fast movers that will be quick to respond to these changes and gain a competitive advantage as a result. Others risk being left behind. Digitisation has the potential both to disrupt and develop Europe.
The EU and its Member States can either embrace digitisation or end up as global laggards, losing out in the competition for growth and jobs in an ever more digitised world.
There is a big risk that the EU countries will not deliver on the most crucial Digital Single Market reforms due to old vested interest. And the upcoming Brexit negotiations may also consume a lot of political energy and attention at the expense of the Digital Single Market agenda.
But in Europe we should not waste a good opportunity.
This report, Disrupting Europe, proposes a more proactive and ambitious digital strategy across all aspects of European society. It gives several recommendations to decision makers on how they can speed up the transformation to a more digital Europe. After several years of stagnation and crisis, the EU countries must unite their efforts to make Europe a digital frontrunner.
Digital disruption can potentially force millions of European workers out of their jobs, become a new driver of popular protests or feed into a growing wave of Euroscepticism. The EU and its Member States should not resort to short-sighted protectionism as an answer to these challenges.
That is why digital nationalism must be rejected. Instead, they should focus on forward-looking regulations that help businesses to thrive and innovate, while supporting workers with education and re-training programmes. Europe needs a well-educated, productive and digital skilled labor force to become a global frontrunner in digitisation. 
The strategic and political options are clear. If the EU does not react to the digital tide, it ultimately faces a future as a historical museum in a digitised world. However, it is crucial that digitisation is not seen as an end in itself. Rather, it is a tool that the EU Member States can use to find cost effective and intelligent solutions to the biggest societal challenges they will face in the coming years: demographics, health, environment and logistics.

Main recommendations by Think Tank EUROPA:

  • Digital by default All legislation in the EU and Member States should be digital by default and must not impose unnecessary barriers to digital innovation. In addition, 100 pct. of all communication from the public sector to citizens and businesses should be delivered digitally by 2020.
  • Agile legislation The EU should gradually move towards smoother, more agile and lighter regulations that meet the needs of a fast-moving digital economy, rather than ex-ante speciffic sector regulations.
  • Harmonisation More harmonisation can streamline European regulations by reducing national exemptions and ex-post competition regulation. Market monitoring should replace ex-ante sector-speciffic regulation over time.
  • New standards The EU must define world class standards made for the digital age. Clear interoperability standards for automated vehicles, security, privacy, cloud computing, e-health, e-identification and e-invoices are needed to ensure a smooth functioning of the Digital Single Market.
  • Access European citizens should have easy and fast access to the internet from public institutions with giga speed downloads, and households should have internet access with download speeds of at least 100 Mbps. Affordable giga speed fibre optic and mobile 5G networks should be a universal service provision in EU countries. If private market operators cannot provide this, then governments should support ultrafast networks to rural areas along highways and national roads.
  • Investments EU regulation should encourage investments in ultra-speed fibre net through co-investments, sharing of existing ducts, lighter regulations and value-based access prices. More public and private investments are needed to create a world class European infrastructure with sufficient bandwidth and ultra-speed tailored for the new generation of IoT solutions.
  • Common frequency The upcoming 5G auctions on frequency bands should be made at a European level rather than by individual Member States thereby achieving economies of scale.
  • Competition to scale EU competition policy should continue to ensure low prices and high quality for consumers and actively allow acquisitions across national borders in the telecommunications sector to speed up market integration at a European level.
  • Common law By 2020 all existing EU directives and national laws on copyright should be merged into a coherent and unified EU copyright regulation. Such a reform should streamline existing regulation, review duration of rights and strike a fair balance of remuneration of creative producers and right-holders with the public good of cross-border access to digital content.
  • Responsibility Attempting to protect privacy through notice and consent is ineffective in the digital age. THe EU must focus less on individual consent and more on placing the responsibility for data use and liability for reasonably foreseeable harms on data users.
  • Liability It is crucial to establish new liability rules that are adapted to the legal challenges of the digital economy – for instance, determining responsibility for incidents in robotised and automatised systems.
  • Sustainability The digital transformation in Europe should be environmentally sustainable. Higher ICT energy efficiency standards must be agreed upon at the European level, and data on the environmental footprint of products and processes in Europe should be stored and used intelligently with the aim to reduce the EU’s resource dependence and waste.
  • National support The push for a Digital Single Market must be supplemented and followed up by new ambitious digital strategies at the national level. But to avoid a regulatory capture of future EU regulation by national decisions, the EU should agree on a national regulatory moratorium for the telecommunications markets until the common EU regulations are adopted.
  • Education Member States should develop retraining programmes and digital educations to help workers affected by digitisation finnd new jobs higher up the value chain.
  • Data sharing Member States can launch open portals where citizens and companies can access public data and facilitate data sharing and innovation for the benefit of society.

Tænketanken EUROPA indtager ikke holdninger som organisation. Denne tekst repræsenterer alene – som alle udgivelser fra Tænketanken EUROPA – forfatterens/forfatternes betragtninger.