ROAD TO THE #EYD2018 - Part 1
The 21st century is significantly characterized by rapid structural changes in part set by the digital revolution after the creation of the World Wide Web. The year 2017 embarked a major milestone for the expansion of the internet. It has been the first year in which more than half of the world’s population was a user of the internet (approximately four billion people). Notwithstanding, empirical evidence shows us that a great amount of the world population still lives without access to the internet. By looking at the geographical data on internet users, we can point out, on the one hand, the inequality between developed and developing countries. In any case, this inequality is fading as developing countries catch up. On the other hand, when considering internet access, other inequalities become apparent between different groups of people. For example, the elderly represent the biggest group of non-users: only 10% of those aged above 64 uses the internet. If we compare this data with the rate of usage among people aged between 16 and 24 (73%), the discrepancy becomes evident. Still, the elderly are not the only group displaying unequal access to the internet: people who are unemployed (only 17% uses the internet) and people with disabilities also suffer from digital exclusion.
The internet and digital technologies have undoubtedly revolutionized our world. However, as previously mentioned, some access barriers still exist. This could potentially have several negative spill-overs: citizens could miss out on goods and services; internet companies and start-ups may have their horizons limited; businesses and governments might not fully benefit from new digital tools. We still lack a satisfactory level of digital inclusion.
In order to tackle this issue, in May 2015 the Juncker Commission announced The Digital Single Market (DSM) policy. The free movement of goods, persons, services, capital and data was guaranteed. Furthermore, individuals and businesses are enabled to seamlessly access and exercise online activities under conditions of fair competition, high level of consumer and personal data protection, irrespectively of their nationality or place of residence. As President Juncker quoted in his State of the European Union speech on 14 September 2016, "Digital technologies and digital communications are permeating every aspect of life. We need to work for a Europe that empowers our citizens and our economy. And today, both have gone digital." In a functional digital single market there will be fewer barriers and more opportunities: it will enable people and businesses to trade and to innovate freely. They can do so legally, safely, securely and affordably.
The aim is to make the EU's single market fit for the digital age by tearing down regulatory walls. By moving from 28 national markets to a single one, the DSM could contribute €415 billion per year to the EU economy. This would boost jobs, growth, competition, investment and innovation. It will also create opportunities for new start-ups and allow companies to grow and innovate. All this, in a market counting for over 500 million people.
The European Commission has made it a priority to create a Digital Single Market through the removal of barriers for citizens and businesses. In order to achieve this, the Digital Single Market Strategy is built on three pillars. They consist of several initiatives in order to ensure effective implementation:
1. Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe
Legislative proposals for simple and effective cross-border contract rules for consumers and businesses: comprehensive analysis of the role of platforms in the market including illegal content on the Internet; adoption of a Priority ICT Standards Plan; extension of the European Interoperability Framework for public services.
A wide ranging review of the subject to prepare legislative proposals to tackle unjustified geo-blocking
A competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector, relating to the online trade of goods and the online provision of services
Legislative proposals for a reform of the copyright regime
A review of the Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation
Measures in the area of parcel delivery
Legislative proposals to reduce the administrative burden on businesses arising from different VAT regimes
2. Creating the right conditions for digital networks and services to flourish
A comprehensive analysis of the role of platforms in the e-market, including illegal content on the Internet
Legislative proposals to reform the current telecoms rules
A review of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive
The establishment of a contractual Public-Private Partnership on Cybersecurity
A review of the e-Privacy Directive
3. Maximising the growth potential of the Digital Economy
The adoption of a Priority ICT Standards Plan and the extension of the European Interoperability Framework for public services
Initiatives on data ownership, free flow of data (e.g. between cloud providers) and on the creation of a European Data Cloud
Design of a new e-Government Action Plan including an initiative on the ‘Once-Only’ principle and a proposal on mandatory interconnection of business registers
The EU needs a new economic momentum to help its economies to recover from the 2007 crisis and to boost long-term growth and competitiveness. This will be extremely important for the economies of Central and Eastern Europe. In fact, the DSM may provide a large market in sectors where these countries could potentially develop and exploit a competitive advantage. In the long run, it could help to protect Europe’s economic and social model. Furthermore, it may increase citizens’ well-being by triggering renewal in public services. These have been hit by the debt burden and long-term spending pressures.
At this point, the question that still needs an answer is: could the Digital Single Market be taken advantage of, to foster digital inclusion?
Digital inclusion is the European Commission’s goal to ensure that everybody can contribute to, and benefit from, the digital economy and society. Digital inclusion has been articulated specifically to address issues of opportunity, access, knowledge, and skill at the policy level. By supporting higher levels of e-readiness and e-skills, as well as education levels, the DSM can ensure that more Europeans can take part in the future knowledge society.
The e-Government services sector is a key element of the European Single Digital Market. It is contributing to the inclusion of all European citizens: they can now benefit from new public services or from those they were previously excluded from. The elderlies for example, can benefit from a wide range of “smart” technologies that can help improve remote medical assistance. For instance, Scottish authorities reduced in this way the waiting period for hospital visits from 57 days to only 9 days. Another example of inclusion can be drawn from the case of Romania: the Romanian government created a program for students from poor families, allowing them to purchase a computer for €200. Such an initiative ensures that the next generation is equipped with the necessary ICT skills, regardless of economic background.
Moreover, the “New Skills Agenda for Europe”, which was launched by the European Commission in 2016, was designed to make essential training, skills and support available to people in the EU. These actions include helping unskilled adults to acquire the qualifications demanded by a digital society. Furthermore, they contribute to improve the digital knowledge of the broader population and not just of the IT professionals. Additional action is taking place through the identification of skills of asylum seekers, migrants and refugees, improving their inclusion into the wider European process of digitalization.
In addition, the Marrakesh Treaty is also being implemented. It will facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind or visually impaired: it will contribute to foster inclusion of people with disabilities. People with disabilities make up around 15% of the European population. Digital inclusion represents for them the watershed between being dependent on others and competing on an equal base. The European Disability Forum estimates that around half of the disabled population could gain employment if provided with the right ICT skills.
With the initiatives mentioned above, the Digital Single Market could be taken advantage of, to foster digital inclusion and foster greater economic and social progress within the EU. As a logical step, the European Commission has made it a priority to create a Digital Single Market by tearing down barriers for citizens and businesses.