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Advancing a European “digital single market”

UK Business Secretary Vince Cable says businesses and consumers across Europe are being let down by the “patchwork” approach to the digital economy in Europe.

Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, Cable called for the creation of what he calls a “digital single market.”

In a keynote speech, the Liberal Democrat MP said that Europe had led the digital revolution in certain areas, such as Estonia’s use of digital government, the roll-out of high-speed broadband in some countries, or the ‘financial tech’ community in the UK.

But he also pointed out that the European digital economy remains 28 different markets, each with its own regulations.

Addressing the Lisbon Council’s Robert Schumann lecture,  Cable said, “In today’s world of smartphones and wi-fi, consumers who have paid for a service rightly expect to be able to use it across borders in the EU.

“But at the moment we have a patchwork quilt of digital content and services – very good in some places but threadbare in others.”

He added, “That’s why I’m calling for the creation of a digital single market. Not only would this boost UK and Eurozone economies by €340 billion but it will make online prices fairer, enable startups to be formed within 24 hours, and help businesses sell throughout the EU.”

Available content on online streaming services such as Netflix varies wildly across the EU, and UK subscribers are often unable to stream content they have paid for when they are abroad.

Where consumers are shopping online, they are often unable to access promotional offers available in other countries, such as 2-for-1 offers.

He said that an online single market should also give consumers confidence that they can buy digital products online with adequate protection, and that their data is not being misused.

For example, over half of British consumers currently choose to pay more to buy online in the UK rather than overseas, because they’re unclear whether they can get a refund if something goes wrong.

Recommendations on such a shakeip are contained in the UK’s “Vision for the EU’s digital economy”, which also highlights the benefits a digital single market would have for startups selling across the EU.

In particular, businesses would not need a physical address in a country to register for a website with that domain name, startups would benefit from a single, online company law process allowing firms to be formed within 24 hours, and administrative processes could be completed once, not 28 times.

The Government paper will be published tomorrow.

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has already identified a digital single market for consumers and businesses within his top five priorities for the Commission.

The ‘cost of non-Europe’ in the Digital Single Market is estimated at €340 billion.

The European Parliament, in its “Costs of Non-Europe – Digital Single Market” report on the Digital Single Market, estimates the “gaps” they identify in the areas of cloud computing, payments, and postal and parcel delivery alone, correspond to €36 billion to €75 billion per annum.

A spokesman for the UK Government said it hopes the expertise of the EU’s new Latvian Presidency will ensure “significant progress” is made toward establishing a digital single market in the EU.

By Martin Banks