Speech at European Commission event on the Digital Single Market

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Copenhagen, Denmark


Thank you for inviting me; it is a real pleasure to come to Copenhagen during your Presidency. First let me congratulate you on the positive agenda you have set for your Presidency.

There is no doubt that the completion of the digital single market is crucial for Europe - both economically and politically. But politicians - and indeed Commissioners - cannot extol the virtues of the single market unless we acknowledge that we have to take difficult and controversial steps to make it a reality.

We are at a crucial point.  We all know the economics.  Report after report has shown how a digital single market would make a massive impact on economic growth in Europe.  We know that consumers are using more and more data - mobile data will grow by 80 per cent every year for the next four years. We know what the benefits are. We know what the challenges are.  The question we have to ask ourselves is whether there is the political will to achieve our goals and overcome these challenges.

So we must be bolder.  We must identify the measures that will lead to the greatest economic benefit across the EU and then vigorously pursue them.  We must build on the euro600 billion that the digital single market already contributes to GDP.   We need to act quickly.  As the Commission identified in their recent Communication (or Roadmap) on e-Commerce last month there is real work still to be done. 

In the UK we have sought to work with our European partners to make progress. David Cameron along with seven other Member States (including Denmark) wrote last year to the Presidents of the European Commission and European Council setting out how EU growth should be developed and managed

This was followed up by a UK-hosted event where 11 Member States collectively agreed - in a letter to Commissioners Kroes and Barnier - a series of actions that were needed to create the digital single market.

Four of the actions highlighted were: 

  • The creation of a sustainable infrastructure capable of delivering digitised goods and services to citizens - in other words a fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure throughout Europe;
  • Policies that give people the skills to participate in the digital economy as well as a competitive framework to keep prices down;
  • A regulatory package that gives both consumers and businesses protection, certainty and the confidence to engage with on-line trading; and
  • A rights management system fit-for-purpose in the 21st century and a digital age.

We are now looking for a degree of certainty in policy and regulatory initiatives; especially in the lead up to the consideration of the next review of the Regulatory Framework.

Clearly it is a complex area but we need clarification on what steps the Commission will be taking to review the Recommendation on relevant Markets. This is key to the whole basis of the economic regulation and competition that has been so successful across the Union.

We also want to know whether the Commission will recommend a single methodology for pricing copper. And also we would like to know what the Commission will do in terms of Net Neutrality; the market would like certainty that the Commission does NOT intend to legislate. 

I’d also like to highlight Data Protection. For an audience like yourselves there is no need for me to rehearse all the arguments.  I also don’t need to emphasise the importance for consumers to have the trust and confidence necessary to engage in the on-line world. People want - and deserve - proper protection when it comes to their personal data.  

But there is a world of difference between consumer trust, right and proper safeguards and a prescriptive regulatory regime that could seriously undermine e-commerce and the digital single market.  There are really positive elements of the draft Regulation that we could welcome - EU companies only having to deal with their “home” Data Protection Authority, an increased focus on transparency, acknowledgement of the importance of freedom of expression.

But these elements come alongside more worrying notions such as “explicit consent” which could undermine the excellent industry work the Commission have encouraged over “cookies” in light of the E Privacy Directive.

And we need to be much clearer about what is meant by the “Right to be Forgotten”. Of course there are certain times when it’s right that we can get inaccurate or harmful information about ourselves deleted. But what is currently proposed appears to have the potential to over-promise and under-deliver for consumers. We cannot assume - as the proposal appears to - that the likes of Facebook have (or should have) some form of control over what users do with information freely posted by other users.

SO we need to be cautious if we are to get this right.  To keep our eyes on the prize of a single data protection regime for the 700 million people living in the EU. But avoid the trap of over-bearing and prescriptive regulation.  The recent e-privacy directive is a case in point.  In the UK, we are one of the first to implement it. Many countries have not - so much for a single market.  And even those that have are concerned by the lack of clarity and the burdensome nature of implementation.  A laudable desire to ensure that people can consent to how their data is used has become in reality a difficult and time consuming piece of legislation.

I’m proud of the UK’s track-record in data protection, going back 30 years.  In 2009 President Barroso “…these are no ordinary times.  What Europe needs is a transformational agenda.”   He was right then.  We know what that agenda is.  Let’s get on with it.