Thursday 4 May 2017

EP breaking down national silos in digital markets?

In the blog posts Elements of style: digital single market in European Parliament and Digital commons in the European Parliament, we managed to evade what the EP had to say about the contents of the digital single market (DSM) to be.  

DSM preparation in EP
We remember that under the procedure file 2015/2147(INI) two rapporteurs, Kaja Kallas and Evelyne Gebhardt, had produced a joint report for two committees (the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy ITRE and the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection IMCO), adorned with opinions from six other committees.
The resulting report A8-0371/2015 on Towards a Digital Single Market Act, contained 78 pages, almost four times the number of pages in the DSM communication from the Commission (20 pages).
If we disregard the constant flak from the nationalists, who want the EU to fail at everything, the 19 January 2016 EP plenary debate on the DSM committee report was fairly positive and focused.


Now is the time to return to the DSM benchmark or litmus test, based on the political guidelines for the Commission, by president Jean-Claude Juncker:

I believe that we must make much better use of the great opportunities offered by digital technologies, which know no borders. To do so, we will need to have the courage to break down national silos in telecoms regulation, in copyright and data protection legislation, in the management of radio waves and in the application of competition law.

In short, if the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) want to catch up and overtake in order to become world leaders, digital single market (DSM) regulation has to become better and more uniform than in the advanced federal United States and Canada (as well as elsewhere).

Resolution P8_TA(2016)0009
The final European Parliament resolution P8_TA(2016)0009 of 19 January 2016 on Towards a Digital Single Market (still 28 pages) was adopted by 551 votes against 88 (with 39 abstentions).

Naturally, it is difficult to draw hard conclusions from kind words or a friendly reception, which often leave the level of engagement unclear and reservations or even active resistance unspoken.

The resolution was also long enough to make me content to pick a few random examples, hoping that they would offer some indication of where the European Parliament stands with regard to breaking down national silos.


With regard to telecommunications rules the EP seems to favour competition, but it does not look clear if Parliament is speaking about national markets or a European telecoms market:

52. Emphasises that private investments in fast and ultra-fast communication networks are a requirement for any digital progress that must be incentivised by a stable EU regulatory framework enabling all players to make investments, including in rural and remote areas; considers that increased competition has been associated with higher levels of infrastructure investment, innovation, choices and lower prices for consumers and businesses; considers that little evidence exists of a link between consolidation of operators and increased investment and output in networks; considers that this should be carefully assessed, and competition rules enforced, to avoid excessive market concentration, the creation of oligopolies at European level and a negative impact for consumers;


Even if the European Parliament (point 39) welcomes the Commissions commitment to modernise the current copyright framework (especially in order to remunerate right holders), the EP seems to dig in to defend the territoriality of copyright in Europe:

38. Cautions against indiscriminately promoting the issuing of mandatory pan-European licences since this could lead to a decrease in the content made available to users: highlights that the principle of territoriality is an essential element of the copyright system given the importance of territorial licensing in the EU;

Data protection

The EP mentioned a high level of general data protection often enough, but I have to leave until later to gauge the ambition of the Commission and the state of mind of the European Parliament with regard to current regulation.

Common standards appear to be a necessary condition for the conclusion of agreements on safe international data transfers:

128. Recognises the global nature of the data economy; recalls that the creation of the digital single market is dependent on the free flow of data within and outside the European Union; calls, therefore, for steps to be taken by the EU and its Member States in cooperation with third countries to ensure high standards of data protection and safe international data transfers, in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation and the existing EU case law, when pursuing cooperation with third countries within the Digital Single Market Strategy;

Radio spectrum

Conceptually, how are radio waves more national than air? However, should we understand that member states defend their national radio spectrum silos to the utmost, while (the Commission and) the Parliament want to make at least some progress, as proposed in the Lamy report (High Level Group on the future of the UHF spectrum)? Anyway:  

59. Highlights that radio spectrum is a critical resource for the internal market for mobile, wireless broadband communications, as well as broadcasting, and is essential for the future competitiveness of the European Union; calls as a priority for a harmonised and pro-competitive framework for spectrum allocation and effective management to prevent delays in spectrum allocation, and for a level playing field for all market players, and in light of the Lamy report, for a long-term strategy on the future uses of the various bands of spectrum, which are necessary in particular for 5G deployment;

Competition law

The Commission and the European Parliament see eye to eye on competition in the digital single market, if we believe:

6. Supports the Commission's plan to ensure that EU competition policy applies fully to the digital single market, as competition gives consumers more choice but will also provide a level playing field, and regrets that the current lack of a European digital framework has highlighted the failure to reconcile the interests of large and small providers;

These were just first impressions. As regarding the single market in general, at some stage we have to follow up on individual proposals and responses regarding the EU and EEA digital single market.

However, if legislation and regulation on telecoms, copyright, data protection, radio waves (spectrum) and competition are federal matters in Canada and the United States, how does the European Union compare with regard to quality and uniformity?

Ralf Grahn

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