The formation of the European Union (E.U.) has brought residents and businesses many benefits, such as the freedom to pass from country to country without visas, and the free movement of goods, services, and capital. But there are still many barriers in place, especially relating to digital goods and services — and this is something the European Commission is looking to fix.
During a meeting in Brussels, Belgium earlier today, the Commission laid the foundation for what it hopes will create a more unified E.U.-wide digital economy. The so-called “digital single market strategy” will tackle key facets of cross-border trading, communications, entertainment, and more.
For example, geoblocking — the process of preventing Internet users in a specific location from accessing certain digital services — is prevalent across the E.U., with available services varying between countries. “Too many Europeans cannot use online services that are available in other EU countries, often without any justification; or they are re-routed to a local store with different prices. Such discrimination cannot exist in a Single Market,” the Commission said in a press release.
Feeding into this will be things like encouraging consumers to buy from other E.U. countries, considering that only 15 percent of Europeans currently purchase goods online from other E.U. nations. This will include a more “harmonized” pricing for parcel delivery services, to solve the existing problem of the cost of posting a package often being higher than the value of the item itself. Moreover, the complexities of different value added tax (VAT) rates from country to country can often preclude smaller firms from tackling cross-border trading, and as such the E.U. is seeking to simplify such arrangements.
Elsewhere, telecoms and media regulations will also be analyzed, and issues such as the availability and consistency of 4G technology will be on the agenda.
The ramifications of this proposed sea change will extend far beyond Europe too. The European Commission has previously revealed its plans for a single digital market, and a number of Silicon Valley companies have already given their backing, including Google. A common complaint from the U.S. has been that there are simply too many rules and regulations on a local, national, and Europe-wide level.
“Europe cannot be at the forefront of the digital revolution with a patchwork of 28 different rules for telecommunications services, copyright, IT security and data protection,” explained Günther H. Oettinger, the European Commission’s commissioner for the digital economy and society. “We need a European market, which allows new business models to flourish, startups to grow, and the industry to take advantage of the Internet of things. And people have to invest too — in their IT skills, be it in their job or their leisure time.”
The full and final digital single market strategy will be published in May.