Europe’s Digital Single Market receives a failing grade


It’s time for a two year report card. In May 2015, the European Commission launched an ambitious programme to create what it called a Digital Single Market (DSM). Through 16 initiatives – including an end to unjustified geoblocking, a revamp of copyright and an overhaul of telecom rules – the Commission aimed to unite Europe’s fragmented digital economies into a unified market with more than 500 million consumers. Today, it’s time for a two-year report card. Unfortunately, our recent debate on the Digital Single Market gave the Commission a failing grade. Although far-reaching proposals are being enacted, the speakers believed that most of them move in the wrong direction. Instead of creating a giant pan-European market, they said Commission proposals risk fragmenting it by regulating previously ‘unregulated’ new digital products. Until now, for example, Finns and French enjoy access to the same WhatsApp or Skype. Under proposed new telecom rules, WhatsApp and Skype would need to register with Finnish and French regulators – and perhaps alter their services to fit national requirements. Copyright reforms also seem to be moving backwards. Instead of operating from a single ‘home’ country to serve the entire European Union, streaming video providers such as Netflix will be forced to comply with national content quotas of at least 20% (and probably 30%) in order to subsidise local national production in each country they enter. By the time the discussion ended, participants were questioning the entire premise of the DSM. In some industries such as sports broadcasting, borders may insure the best service for consumers and broadcasters. The real solution to boost digital industries could be less regulation – and the Digital Single Market programme seems instead to have been hijacked by parties wishing to impose more regulation.