This opinion piece was written by Krzysztof Szubert, the former Secretary of State / Deputy Minister of Digital Affairs for the government of Poland. For more like this, see our digital government newsfeed.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently delivered his annual State of the Union. He touched on topics ranging from the region’s most burning political issues (Brexit, migration) to the challenges of digitisation: “Only a strong and united Europe can master the challenges of global digitisation,” he said.
It’s a good time to reflect on where we are at building the Digital Single Market (DSM) and unlocking barriers for Europe’s digital growth. DSM covers more than 500 million people and, according to estimates from the European Commission, it can bring benefits of over €415 billion ($490 bn) a year.
It compiles a vast array of initiatives, touching issues related to telecommunication infrastructure, e-commerce, data and copyright. A number of proposed DSM-based initiatives have already been adopted, while others are still subject to negotiations.
However, while keeping up the work on all the proposals on the table, we should also take a closer look at the big picture.
“To make full use of digitisation is to face derailing challenges head-on, at full speed”
We live in a world where almost every aspect of daily and business life has a digital component to it. This process is gathering pace, and we will rely on digital technologies even more in the future. To make full use of what digitisation has to offer is then to face derailing challenges that come our way head-on, at full speed.
We need to realise that we are dealing with a complete alteration of the global economy. Digitisation has changed the way businesses operate, the way states are governed and the way people socialise and communicate with each other.
This is a new reality and, as policymakers, we need to react accordingly. Technologies have a way of evolving very fast. As such, they have to be followed by prompt modifications of regulations and policies that frame them.
What Europe needs now is stronger-than-ever political will to tackle hurdles around both the way we cooperate and what we cooperate on.
“Establishing faster decision-making and swift implementation are a must if we want to keep up with the rest of the world”
First off: the need for a coherent approach to managing digital, which could be facilitated by more centralised digital management. Right now, many digital initiatives are scattered across the European Commission, and different government bodies coordinate their implementation at national level. Establishing reliable mechanisms of coordination, faster decision-making and swift implementation are then a must — if we want to keep up with the rest of the world.
We do not have the luxury of waiting for Europe’s bureaucracy and administration to catch up; it should be a facilitator, not made up of passive pencil-pushing desk officers. The current, fairly slow-to-respond system of dispersed entities overseeing digital should be replaced with a clear structure that, above all, favours swift dialogue between the EU institutions and members.
The European Commission may be a good place to start. The 2019 election opens a rare window of opportunity to design a more centralised digital commissioner’s dossier, so that there is only one door out there to knock on. That should be paired with similar coordination and consolidation at national levels — with national coordinators located as close as possible to the head of state’s office.
Secondly, there is an unprecedented need for unity. With a market of 500 million people, the EU can only succeed globally if it stands undivided. The unique qualities of the digital economy make a clear case for that; a truly European market needs all barriers to be removed.
With the Digital Agenda for Europe, the EU has already recognised this —but it has never been truer than today with the emergence of the immense potential of the data economy. The data economy simply needs room for data to flow free. Failing to deliver that room will leave us missing our best chance of becoming the global technology leader and risks the Union itself crumbling apart.
“We are already being left behind by the US and China”
We are already being left behind by the US and China. We have to do more than simply follow their lead. The EU needs transformation as well as courage to push smart ideas forward. One of those was bringing together the EU heads of states and governments in Tallinn last September to discuss the digital agenda.
The change needs to work for everyone. This is true for a nation and becomes critical for a union. Here comes the all-embracing digital revolution whose multifaceted characteristic has been showing us potential unseen ever before in our economies, societies and politics. Whoever learns to use this tool, and whoever shows the courage to take the most of it, will benefit in all three areas. — Krzysztof Szubert
(Picture credit: Pixabay)