Pro-European parties should unite around a UK vision for the digital single market

The UK is the EU’s leading digital economy and home to its biggest creative sector so has most to gain and most to lose in a digital single market

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The UK is the EU’s leading digital economy and home to its biggest and most dynamic creative sector. That means the UK has most to gain and most to lose on the issue that European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker has put on the top of the EU’s to do list – building a digital single market

The next government will have to work hard to ensure that the digital single market develops in a way that works for rather than against UK interests and that is why TechUK applauded the paper published by the coalition government three weeks ago setting out a “vision for the digital economy” and the effective way it has engaged with EU officials and political leaders on the issues across Europe. 

That doesn’t mean TechUK agrees with every aspect of the UK government paper -there is much detail that needs to be ironed out, not least on copyright issues - but the battle for hearts and minds across Europe on the vision for the digital single market must be won first, and that is something all the UK’s pro-Europe political parties should be united on.

The prize of a successful digital single market, where companies can compete efficiently to bring new valuable products and services to a market of 500 million people is huge. Easy access to a market of that size will help small emerging UK companies with great ideas and great people to grow and scale quickly. It will mean that in the world of digital innovation Europe can compete with the US, China, India and others. It will mean that our next generation of young people can look forward to a future of creative, interesting and rewarding work.

Innovation not regulation

But if we get it wrong, and give in to a more pessimistic and defensive view of Europe’s role in a digital world, we will see a closed market driven by regulation rather than innovation; continued sclerotic growth and a brain drain from Europe of its greatest creative talent. Hardly the conditions that will excite a UK business lobby behind the cause of EU membership. 

Unfortunately for the UK’s creative and tech industries, the broad approach to the digital single market is being forged just at the time when our politicians are focused on the UK election. That is why it was so important that the coalition government set out its vision for a digital single market ahead of the election. It is also why it was unfortunate that the opposition this week seized on uncertainties about the issue of copyright to question the entire UK government approach.

All parties should recognise that at this stage of the debate, it is winning the battle on the big picture that matters – the broad vision of an open and competitive market that drives innovation.

Advanced creative companies

Clearly when it comes to copyright it would make no sense to see the success of the UK’s creative industries undermined. The UK has some of the most technologically advanced creative companies in the world and the success of the UK tech sector is ever more interlinked with the strength of UK creativity. 

However, there are opportunities for reform that could be beneficial to the UK’s creative industries. Copyright reform shouldn’t be viewed as a zero-sum game but instead should be an opportunity to increase the scope for innovation and growth of our world class creative industries by widening access to UK creative products and services across a market of 500 million consumers.

But the debate on copyright shouldn’t distract from the key messages that we need to build a digital single market that goes with the flow of change and not against it – one that makes it easier, not harder to innovate; makes the digital world simpler, not more confusing for citizens; harnesses the power of innovation over the power of regulation; and creates new opportunities for European businesses and Europe’s talented young people. These are ideas that all pro-European parties should be fighting for.

Julian David, CEO, TechUK

Julian David is chief executive of TechUK, the UK’s technology trade association.

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