That’s the Europe I dream…a digital single market
The most powerful person in Europe. You’re probably thinking Dijsselbloem, Merkel, Juncker, Draghi, or even Tsipras. But no, says Leo Mirani: It’s Andrus Ansip, the European commissioner in charge of the “digital single market.”He explains the point of digital integration, his hatred of geo-blocking, and why it’s a myth that Europe has it in for American tech companies.
Disney, for example, the company drew complaints that it was charging residents of different countries different ticket prices for Disneyland Paris, and selectively blocking online access to deals that were made available only to consumers in France or Belgium.
“If someone is selling some magazines or hamburgers somewhere, it will be [a] huge scandal if they say, ‘No, those goods are for our own people, not for you, and we are not accepting credit cards issued in your country,’” Ansip says. “It’s illegal in the physical meaning in the European Union. But in [the] digital meaning, they say it’s [the] basis of our business model. I don’t think we have to accept this kind of business model.”
But any company operating in the European Union today also needs to understand the regulations and tax systems in 28 separate member states. This is a baffling and exhausting process—and one that Ansip hopes to consign to the dustbin.
In May, the European Commission announced a 16-point strategy for turning Europe into a single digital market . This means Ansip has the mammoth task of tearing down virtual barriers to online trade and commerce—doing in the digital realm, within the commission’s five-year mandate, what the EU gradually achieved in the physical world over half a century.
Ansip’s 16 agenda items are equal parts wish list and to-do list. They also are only the first step in a long and arduous task. By the time roaming charges disappear in 2017, it will have been a decade since the Commission took up the cause. Nonetheless, Ansip is confident of the speed with which he and his colleagues will be able to change things.
A will, yes. But a way?
These sorts of low-level annoyances are hardly the stuff of attention-grabbing headlines like antitrust charges against Google, but addressing them is crucial to making Europe more competitive and efficient. Ansip has had some degree of success changing slow-moving bureaucracies before, although that was in Estonia, a country of 1.3 million people to Europe’s 500 million.
Amongst the many digital initiatives he oversaw in his tenure as prime minister, perhaps the most impactful were digital identity and the once-only principle. The former allowed citizens to identify themselves online and has now been extended to non-Estonian citizens. The latter is more revolutionary yet, and an idea Ansip hopes to implement on a European scale: It is the idea that government can only ask for a piece of information once. If a different department needs it again, it must coordinate internally rather than trouble the citizen.