Towards the mythical Digital Single Market ?

On Tuesday I chaired the first session of a Westminster eForum  event entitled “The UK and the Digital Agenda for Europe: e-Commerce Directive and the Digital Single Market”. I thought that my opening remarks were gently provocative but we then had a collective venting of spleen over the regurgitated dog’s dinner of conflicting directives and derogations that have ensured an almost total lack of progress toward a Digital Singe Market.

One speaker was asked to advise a small firm seeking to do on-line business across the EU and was told to not even try. A major firm, active across the whole of the EU has separate legal entities in each member state and twelve full-time lawyers maintaining their rules of engagement – typically nearly two hundred pages per country.

I do urge yoyu to read the transcript when this is published.

Why do I feel so strongly.

That funny name, EURIM, stands for European Informatics Market.

l’informatique is not Information Technology. It is the use of technology to serve Society. Hence our strap-line – the Information Society Alliance.  Our underlying objective always has been a Digital Single Market – outward looking and global, just like the other markets based on London.

EURIM was founded nearly 20 years ago because the UK was punching below its weight  when Directives were being negotiated and gold plating them when it came to implementation. Time and money were also being wasted on displacement activity because the creation of a real single market, on-line or off-line,  was too difficult.

So what has changed over the past twenty years.

The main change in the UK is that business has finally realised that the rules that determine how it is allowed to do business on line are no longer made in Westminster, if they ever were.

They emerge from conference rooms in Stanford, Seattle, the Square Mile ruled by the Corporation of London, Canary Wharf and the two Cambridges (Fenland Cambridge and New England Cambridge).

They are negotiated with officials in Sacramento (California), Washington, Brussels and Beijing.

Finally they are ratified by national legislatures – whose politicians spend time arguing over status and small print because they are usually powerless to change anything that really matters.

 The main change at the European level is that politicians and officials are beginning to realise that unless they take more seriously the creation of a genuine single European market they will soon have nothing left to rule but a decaying and fragmented economic backwater, filled with the assorted flotsam, jetsam and cybercrud  that floats in from global on-line markets that operate under rules negotiated elsewhere.

Hence today’s launch of the EURIM policy studies prospectus for opening up the UK and EU for global on-line business, before it is too late. Those studies and the follow up action plans will include working with the Commission and others, on joined up scrutiny meetings in London as well as in Brussels and Strasbourg.

I plan to blog on what is said after the press embargo is lifted this evening.

P.S. I apologise to those who might have expected me to fix them invitations.

The event was heavily over-subscribed from the target audience and they would have gone on the back of a waiting list. The EURIM team therefore told me to stick by the rules I had agreed with them.

Leaders who do not listen to their team tend  not to survive.

If I survive until my hand-over in the Autumn (“getting rid of the boring bits” so as to focus on content rather than process),  I will have survived longer than most  – and I will owe that survival to a many long-suffering staff and colleagues over the decades – as well as some remarkably tolerant bosses.

I am trying not to blow it now!

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