EUICT15

Oslo, 26 May 2015

State Secretary Vidar Helgesen's speech at the conference on European ICT-policy held in Oslo on 26 May 2015.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m here at last. I am not saying it on your behalf, because I am the last speaker of today. No, I am saying it, because during the last weeks, I have told everyone we are having this conference. A full day conference on European ICT-policy, on the DSM – the Digital Single Market. I have been looking forward to it. It is a great pleasure to be here.

As has been confirmed here today, developing a dynamic and strong digital single market is a top priority. So why is the digital agenda such a hot topic?

Europe has faced some major challenges over the last few years. Despite certain fundamentals that are pointing in the right direction, Europe has far from fully recovered after the financial crises in 2008.

Throughout Europe, there is an urgent need to create economic growth, investments and jobs. In response to the crisis, both the former and the present Commission went back to basics: the single market. Enhancing the single market and unlocking its potential is widely recognised as a key to helping Europe grow out of the crisis and beyond.

Whereas, in the beginning, developing the single market meant bringing down the barriers to trade in a physical market, we now have to bring down the barriers to trade in a digital market. Today, the physical single market has reached a high level of harmonisation, but the digital single market is fragmented and full of barriers.

We see far less cross-border digital trade, far less exchange of cross-border digital services and far less trust than we should expect. Only 7 % of European small and medium sized businesses sell products and services online outside their home country. That is a low figure. Imagine what we could achieve if we provided the digital single market with the same level playing field as the physical single market.

Developing the digital single market will facilitate economic growth. It can give a long-awaited boost to the European economy. Numbers vary, some studies say it could provide up to 415 billion euros in additional growth every year, and hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

It can also serve as an engine for sustainable green growth that relies on high technology and smart solutions. Germany, the main economic driver in Europe, launched a digital strategy last year. Industry 4.0. Realising a digital single market means continued industrial leadership.

Our economies are at a crossroads.

Over the past 10 years, ICT has accounted for 30 % of growth in the EU, whereas in the US the figure was as high as 55 %. The development of a digital single market will enable able us to take full advantage of the opportunities in the global digital economy. Only 10% of the EU workforce is employed in high-tech industries and services. And 40% of the companies needing to recruit highly-skilled ICT professionals have difficulty doing so.

We need to step up using ICT as a driver for innovation, growth and modernisation for businesses and for the public sector. 

Today’s conference has dug deep into five important areas that Europe needs to consider when creating a digital single market. 

We also will need to keep the wider picture in mind at all times. Let me share with you five reflections.

Firstly, developing a digital single market raises fundamental questions. While we used to go to a shop to buy our goods, for example a washing machine, we now buy it online. While we used to make calls from a landline telephone, we talk over the internet using services such as Skype. While we used to look up facts in an encyclopaedia, we google it. While we used to listen to music from a vinyl record or a CD, we stream music through an app.

Now who should own the information that someone likes to listen to jazz and needs a new washing machine? What sort of regulation should we impose on Skype and Telenor, given the similarity of some of their services?

Developing a digital single market also involves deciding how the market actors should interact with each other.

Secondly, this is a balancing act. Copyright is a good example. All copyright legislation must balance different interests. We must protect the copyright holders’ needs to make a living out their work. But changes in consumer usage patterns call into question established business models. Culture and media consumption are moving to new digital platforms.

We have to modernise copyright, to make it fit for purpose in a new digital reality. Striking a fair balance between user interests, inventors and content providers is critical. If we achieve this, we will have endless possibilities.

When I was in Brussels last week, I met with Vice President Ansip, who is responsible for the digital single market. He told me that he had recently visited a film library in Germany that was full of high quality German film. A truly valuable collection. But just think how digitalisation of these films would make it possible to share them throughout Europe. But copyright issues stood in the way and kept the films archived. Finding a good European solution to copyright issues will benefit all parties.

Thirdly, it is a moving target. What we know as the digital single market today could be different tomorrow. Both technical developments and market developments are taking place at high speed. Regulating the digital single market can seem like a challenge on par with herding cats.

We will need a flexible framework that takes into account not only this rapid development, but also the uneven development of digitalisation among European states.

For example, we have updated our Public Administration Act and made all communication between public authorities and our businesses and citizens digital by default. We have standards for universal design in information technology for both public and private actors, in order to ensure easy access for all. Universal design in information technology and a digital-by-default approach should be introduced throughout Europe.Uneven development can also be seen in electronic communications. E-com services are developing at a different pace in different countries in the EU.

Norway and the Nordic countries generally stand out as early users of new digital services. We need a regulatory framework that fits all, even though we are not one size.

My fourth reflection is one simple word: trust. The Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy sets out16 concrete initiatives to complete the digital single market. The one thing they have in common, it is the need to build trust, in both the private and the public sector.

Trust in data protection in all digital services is fundamental in this respect – simply because data protection itself is a fundamental right. The processing of personal data must be lawful, fair and transparent.

We need to feel we can trust the system with our personal information, and we need to trust the information security in the system as a whole. Building trust will depend on how well data protection is regulated, not where – i.e. in which country – it is regulated. Take cloud service providers as an example: whereas we used to keep our photos in an old shoe box, we now have them stored online. In our view, it is the standards and requirements of the cloud service we ought to regulate, not where the data should be stored.

Without trust, we will undermine all the other initiatives on the drawing board. There won’t be any cross border e-commerce if consumers don’t dare to shop online from another country. Consumer expenditure accounts for 56 % of GDP in Europe.

Maintaining a high level of consumer protection is good for the consumers, and good for the economy. EU cross-border online services only represent 4 % of today’s digital market. We need to increase that percentage. Cross-border e-commerce is a core function of the digital single market. It is important to take action to make e-commerce simple, reasonable, reliable and trustworthy.

This brings me to my fifth and last reflection of today: the value of discussion and awareness raising. Today’s conference is just a start. The debate on the digital single market is now under way in Norway, just as it is in other European countries. The Digital Single Market Strategy serves as an inspiration in our own efforts to develop a digital society. We are currently preparing a white paper on a new digital agenda for Norway.

Today’s conference shows that the digital economy is no longer an isolated sector, but involves all aspects of our lives. We all knew from the very start that the single market would be a dynamic creation, intended to be up-dated and modernised in a changing world. But nobody could have foreseen just how fast and extensive these changes would be.

The EEA Agreement is also dynamic. It gives Norway the opportunity to keep up with key developments in the European market and regulatory framework, and this will also be the case when the single market goes digital. The EEA Agreement also gives us the opportunity to take part  to some extent in the shaping of these processes. Norway sent its preliminary views to the Commission this winter, as you may have seen in your conference folder.

We hope to provide constructive input to these important processes.

And we hope that today’s conference has provided some interesting food for thought for you.

Thank you for your attention. And thank you for coming.