A Digital Single Market that benefits all Europeans

Article written by Neil Portelli – Director, EU Policy and Legislation, MEUSAC
Published in Malta Today – 23.10.19

Back in 2014, then European Commission candidate Jean Claude Juncker spoke of his belief in the great opportunities digital technologies provide us with and how we, as citizens within the European Union (EU) can make better use of them and ultimately benefit. Fast forward to 2019 and one would note that EU citizens are now benefiting from a more competitive digital environment which offers the best (to date) possible access to the online world, both for individuals and businesses.

Building on the European Single Market, an idea that came into force back in 1993 and which guarantees the so called, “four freedoms” (free movement of goods, capital, services and people), the establishment of the Digital Single Market under the Juncker Commission in 2015 sought to reverse negative trends within the EU and put an end to fragmentation in a number of services that are provided digitally.

The Digital Single Market, identified by the Juncker Commission as one of its political priorities, therefore set out to ensure online activities its citizens engage in are done in a manner which guarantees fair conditions that are being met consistently and that nationality or Member State residence will not hinder services being provided.

To this end, the Juncker Commission presented 30 legislative initiatives throughout its mandate with each initiative prioritizing the best possible access to the online world. 28 of these initiatives have been politically agreed upon by both Parliament and the Council of the European Union, the so-called co-legislators, whilst the remaining two are still up for discussion.

Creating a digitally connected Europe is no easy feat though. Demand for further digital world improvements have simply made the EU’s work on the Digital Single Market increasingly challenging. Having said so, implemented improvements can be felt and it is easier to relate to positive changes the EU has brought to its citizens’ lives.

One needs to only look at the high roaming mobile phone charges citizens had to deal with prior to 2014. In 2007 an overseas voice call within the EU for EU citizens cost customers over €0.50 per minute whilst SMSs used to tally to €0.28. The end of roaming charges which brought with it significantly improved rates (intra-EU calls and SMSs now being capped at €0.19 (+ VAT) and €0.06 (+VAT) respectively) has led to double the phone calls being made by travelers when compared to habits happening before June 2017 which incidentally is the month in which roaming charges ended across the EU. The same can be said for mobile data use growing 12 times since the abolition of roaming charges.

Many of us still remember having restricted access to certain internet content on the basis of their geographical location, a concept more widely known as geo-blocking. Since the end of 2018, new rules have ensured that EU citizens will not be discriminated or restricted in an unjustified manner based of their geographical location.

The Juncker Commission, however, did not solely settle on making its citizens’ lives easier. Noting that digital threats are constantly evolving and that, for example, ransomware attacks have increased by an incredible 300% since 2015, a number of instruments were established to reinforce the EU’s stance against cyber-security. The creation of the Cybersecurity Act has injected new life into the EU Agency for cybersecurity (ENISA) making it stronger whilst granting the agency more resources and more widespread tasks.

The past five years, whilst tumultuous, have given EU citizens the possibility to engage further in the digital world, which by nature should be borderless. The EU Commission is fully conscious that the constantly evolving digital sector can not remain as fragmented as the pre-Digital Single Market Strategy days.  The 2017 Digital Single Market review augured well for the future though as one of its key messages called for robust legislation that is to remain relevant in a rapidly changing digital landscape and that requires renewed emphasis from all EU players to deliver on the many aspects of the Digital Single Market.

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