The EU's digital agenda is already at risk


Digital & Data Governance

Picture of Alan Marcus
Alan Marcus

Head of IT, Telecommunications, Media and Entertainment Industries, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum

EU countries’ often disjointed approach to telecom regulation heightens uncertainty and discourages investment. Europe’s debate over its digital future tends to focus on describing the problem rather than on addressing the root causes of its shortcomings. What’s needed are policies that spur investment and encourage growth; fixing the current hodgepodge of outdated regulation would be a start, but is akin to putting a fresh coat of paint on worn-out timbers when what’s really needed is a new house.

European policymakers concerned with developing the digital economy should look to models of what the future could look like and then ask how to get there. Tomorrow’s challenges – overseeing a converged information and communications technology sector and managing data flows in a single digital market – requires a new scope and approach. Telecommunications and digital services players will find it easier to innovate once data flows more easily across EU states’ borders.

To create different policies governing the telecommunications, media and technology sectors make less and less sense in an age of ever-greater convergence. But telecommunications regulations should not simply be expanded to cover other sectors. New frameworks are needed to encourage innovation from all segments of the value chain and to ensure fair treatment of all players in the market.

The stakes are high. Other major economies with whose companies Europeans must compete have already created the conditions that are conducive to infrastructure investment and rapid growth in digital services. Companies in China and the U.S. that are driving the development of a global digital economy – from to Facebook, and from Google to Tencent – are the result. Unless Europe shifts its approach, it will give its companies little chance to compete with these leaders. The vision of the Digital Agenda for Europe that was meant to boost the EU economy and “enable Europe’s citizens and businesses to get the most out of digital technologies” already looks to be at risk.

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