Belgium- Brussels : 2016 will be a decisive year for the development of the digital economy and society in the European Union. It will be a year of action to deliver on one of the top priorities of this Commission: establishing a Digital Single Market to master the technological revolution we live in – a revolution with a fast and profound impact on businesses, markets, our society and the way we work and live.
The coming months will be about tackling central issues in this ground-breaking development. I would like to use this opportunity to focus on some of the initiatives we are going to take this year.
One of our biggest assets in Europe is to leverage our internal market of nearly 510 million customers and over 20 million companies. Unfortunately, whereas most boundaries for the single market have disappeared in the physical world, we still have too many in the digital one. We need to create a functioning digital single market which allows companies to scale up and expand quickly without being slowed down and hindered by 28 different rules.
Shortly before the end of last year we took first steps on the modernisation of copyright. Copyright reform is crucial. Nowhere else are national borders such bottlenecks as in the area of copyright. However, we need to get the balance right between the producers of copyright protected content and its consumers to preserve the great potential of our creative economy. By mid 2016, we will consider legislative proposals including cross-border distribution of television and radio programmes online and cross-border access to content.
Online platforms are playing an ever more central role in the digital economy in a wide range of areas and are rapidly and profoundly challenging traditional business models. Some of these platforms can control access to online markets and can exercise significant influence. This raises important regulatory questions we will answer in a comprehensive assessment of the role of platforms in 2016.
We also need to make our industry fit for the digital age. Progress with digitising industry in Europe is mixed. In some sectors, European companies are amongst the leading enterprises when it comes to the use of new technologies but in many areas there is still a long way to go. This is why we will present a plan for digitalisation of industry which will cover all essential aspects that concern our industry and its workforce.
Our people need to be ready for the digital age, too. We need to tackle the digital skills gaps in Europe and look at how the EU can support Member States in confronting this challenge. Our objective is to prepare the ground for a joint commitment to develop adequate levels of digital skills in the EU in spring.
Digital projects should also benefit from the Juncker investment package, the € 315 billion European Funds for Strategic Investment (EFSI). The EFSI will reduce financing risk and help achieve critical mass for major investments that the European economy badly needs. We are confident that the EFSI will also contribute to unlocking investment in next generation telecom networks.
High-class telecom and ICT networks provide the backbone for the digital economy and society: they have the potential to support all aspects of our lives, and drive Europe’s economic recovery. However, the telecom sector is undergoing structural changes and still suffers from isolated national markets and a lack of regulatory consistency and predictability. Therefore, the Commission will present proposals in 2016 for an ambitious overhaul of the telecoms regulatory framework.
2016 will not only be about the digital economy: for instance, cyber security in the digital world, where trust and security are indispensable elements, will also be an important priority for us. We already made good progress last year on the first EU-wide legislation on cybersecurity. This year, the Commission intends to launch a public-private partnership to stimulate the European cybersecurity industry in order to provide European citizens, enterprises and public administrations with access to the latest digital security technology.
Finally, we need to increase our competiveness by establishing Europe as a world leader in strategic areas: we must foster research, development and innovation.
New digital technologies are the future engines of economic growth: Europe has significant strengths in areas such as micro-electronics, embedded systems and networking technologies. We need to build on these strengths and seize the opportunities in new and often cross-cutting areas such as big data or the Internet of Things.
The EU-Commission will do its part, for instance by launching a major initiative on a world-class data and computing infrastructure: the European Cloud Initiative, which includes a European Science Cloud. To support that, we can draw from the almost € 3 billion for 2016 and 2017 earmarked for the digital part of Horizon 2020, our research and development programme.
In the digital economy, who comes late is punished by the market, not in a decade but in the near future. Europe has finally come round to understand that digitisation will affect all sectors of the economy. We can no longer wait. Let us make 2016 the year of decisive progress in the digital field for the benefit of citizens and business in the European Union!