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The UK tech sector is being urged to stand up and contribute to the debate about how Brussels should proceed with the delivery of the European Commission’s (EC) 16-point Digital Single Market plan.
The initiative is geared towards creating a single marketplace for digital services within the European Union (EU), and the commission has already outlined 16 separate areas that need to be addressed to deliver on this vision by the end of 2016.
These include the implementation of new rules to make cross-border e-commerce and the free flow of data across the EU easier, while other parts of its 16-point plan seek to update the laws governing copyright, competition, data protection and the telecoms market.
Speaking at an event hosted by TechUK in central London on 15 July 2015, Jörgen Gren, a cabinet member working within the EC’s Digital Single Market team, said the EC has just 18 months left to work through the contents of its 16-point plan.
The commission’s stance on some of the points addressed by the plan – particularly around copyright, geoblocking and VAT – need to be finalised before the end of 2015, he added.
“The Digital Single Market is the EU’s response to the digital revolution which is coming at us like a high-speed train. A lot of stakeholders think we can stop this train. We disagree. We cannot stop this train, but what we can do instead is make sure this gives us opportunities,” said Gren.
To ensure the commission is going about addressing these points in the best way possible, it will be seeking feedback on its proposals from the business world through a series of consultations, he added.
Read more about the Digital Single Market
Speaking at the event, Alesha De-Freitas, head of Digital Single Market within the government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), said the UK needs to play an active role in these consultations.
“It’s really important that the UK feeds into all of the consultations and provides the best possible information and evidence to help commission officials make their decisions. We, as UK government, will be feeding in, but we also want you to feed in as well,” she said.
“We really want to have an open dialogue with companies and we’re very keen to ensure we’re taking on board a wide range of views. We welcome advice from you what you think will work and whether or not we can achieve these things in a better or more iterative way, but things are moving fast,” De-Freitas added.
From startup to scale-up
One group that Gren hopes will benefit from the proposals is the European startup community, as it is claimed the continent’s present legislative landscape makes it difficult for smaller firms to scale-up their operations beyond a certain point.
As such, Gren said it’s not uncommon to see European startups cross the pond to America so they can continue to grow their business. As an example of this, he cited the Swedish music streaming service Spotify.
“They scaled up a bit in the Nordics, but then they had to go to the United States to scale up and then they came back and dominated the European market, which is cool for a Swedish company. It’s not so cool that they had to go to the United States to scale up. We want them to scale up here,” said Gren.
This was a theme picked up by De-Freitas, who cited Bruegel figures during her presentation that state 17% of the world’s leading innovators come from the EU, while 52% reside in the US.
“We don’t believe that when it comes to creating world-leading innovators, America is inherently better at this than the EU. So why is it when you look at technology companies, the US is over-represented in terms of the big name brands?” she asked.
“One of the main reasons is that it’s so much easier to expand across the UK than it is to expand across Europe. So, if you have a great idea, you start in London and you’ve got something going and it starts to run, where do you go next?”
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