Q&A: Andrus Ansip, VP for the Digital Single Market, European Commission

Q&A: Andrus Ansip, VP for the Digital Single Market, European Commission

European service providers will play a vital role in the Digital Single Market, but they must act quickly. Capacity exclusively talks to Andrus Ansip, European Commission VP for the Digital Single Market.


What role would you like to see service providers play in fulfilling the vision of a digital single market?

Service providers play a vital role to connect people, businesses, organisations and public administrations across Europe. 

They should be at the forefront of innovation. The next generation of technologies is already there and coming online. Cloud computing, 5G networks, the internet of things, big data. Europe needs investment in digital. 

First and foremost, it is up to those in the market to invest in the necessary infrastructure. However, the market cannot always provide all that is needed, especially in rural areas.

This is why the Commission is putting forward instruments to stimulate investment in the telecoms sector and develop the roll-out of broadband. We notably have European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF).

Under the European Regional Development Fund and Cohesion Fund (part of ESIF), over €20 billion are available for investments in ICT during the 2014-2020 funding period.

Our new ambitious Investment Plan for Europe will also target digital infrastructures, along with other strategic infrastructures such as energy and transport networks. In areas where the market does not deliver the necessary infrastructure investment, it is allowed to use state aid subject to assessment.

With the Digital Single Market, we will reinforce the right regulatory environment for telecoms companies. In September we launched a public consultation on the review of EU telecoms rules. 

The review addresses different challenges in telecoms: from regulatory fragmentation and spectrum management to investment in networks and governance. I encourage service providers to give their views and participate in other public consultations opened under the Digital Single Market.

I am convinced that, as regulators, what we can do is to provide the appropriate environment to underpin a single telecoms market driven by fair competition.


The Commission released its Digital Single Market Strategy in May 2015. Are the targets and timelines realistic?

We need to move fast and create a Digital Single Market as soon as possible. This is why I presented in May – only a few months after the new Commission started its work – our strategy to make it happen.

We committed to delivering 16 initiatives by the end of 2016. It won't be easy; there will be vested interests fighting us all the way but I count on the support of the European parliament and member states to make this Digital Single Market a reality. In June, EU leaders fully backed our strategy: I expect them to work quickly with us so that Europe can really benefit from digital opportunities. It is not too late, but there is no time to waste. We are losing out on unexploited potential.

According to a study by the European parliament, a Digital Single Market could contribute €415 billion per year to our economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. We need to break down the many barriers which unlock Europe's potential.

People and businesses miss out on goods and services and have their horizons limited. Think about e-commerce, only 15% of consumers buy online from other EU countries, only 7% of SMEs sell across borders. It is too complicated, too expensive, too risky. 

Many startups leave Europe to scale up on other continents: this is simply not acceptable. And think about data, the new oil of the digital economy. Data produced by sensors, satellite, machines: we need to make the most of it. With our strategy, Europe will reap the benefits of the digital economy – the sooner it is implemented, the better.


What have been the proposal's biggest challenges so far?

There are challenges in every aspect of setting up a Digital Single Market. Reviewing long standing rules – such as the telecoms or copyright rules or the Audiovisual Media Services Directive – to make them fit for purpose in the current digital world, doing away with barriers to high-quality affordable cross-border parcel deliveries that are still discouraging cross-border online sales, preventing unjustified geo-blocking, reducing VAT obstacles when selling across borders, and so many more.

These are no easy tasks, there are no easy solutions for them as different groups of people share different interests in them. But overall, there is a common understanding that we need to move quickly. 

The vast majority of Member States have asked for the Digital Single Market to happen. Our strategy reflects their contributions, and those of the European parliament's main political groups. We also consulted stakeholders widely, as we are doing now ahead of the adoption of the different proposals. There is a clear ownership of our objectives, so I am convinced we can move fast, even if, of course, the evil is often in the details.


How would you respond to recent concerns from operators with regards to the abolition of roaming charges?

A transition period has been agreed to make the abolition of roaming surcharges sustainable throughout the EU without an increase in domestic prices. This transition period will ensure that when the end date comes (June 2017), the wholesale roaming prices to be paid by operators when they offer mobile communications services outside of their country in the EU have decreased, by market forces or through another regulatory intervention, for roaming without retail surcharges to be sustainable. 

In addition, the regulation includes safeguards that can be used by mobile operators to prevent, where necessary, abusive or anomalous use of roaming services, such as permanent roaming, which otherwise could be the source of distortions on domestic markets.

In some specific and exceptional circumstances, in particular where an operator's domestic retail prices are well below the wholesale roaming prices it has to pay to the network operators that their roaming customers are using when travelling abroad in the EU and it has a "deficit" (unbalanced traffic, i.e. more of its subscribers travel abroad, for longer, than is the case for visitors on their own network), in order to avoid an increase in the domestic prices of that operator, the regulation foresees, as an exception, the possibility for that operator to still apply a surcharge to its roaming customers, if the national regulatory authority (NRA) agrees. 

The NRAs will annually inform the Commission of their decisions on that matter. I am confident the transition will be smooth and beneficial for all. Since EU regulations have been introduced to reduce roaming charges, domestic mobile prices have been decreasing as well.


What are your hopes for the Digital Single Market ten years from now?

The Digital Single Market is the basis of a new dynamic economy and society, ready to make the most of the opportunities offered by new technologies.

Our strategy lays the groundwork for Europe's digital future. We want to see pan-continental telecoms networks, digital services that cross borders and a wave of innovative European start-ups. We want to see every consumer getting the best deals and every business accessing the widest market – wherever they are in Europe.

A Digital Single Market means new jobs will be created through new content and service applications, increased e-commerce and infrastructure deployment. It means modern, fit-for-purpose telecoms rules and an effective spectrum coordination EU-wide. 

Common standards and interoperability also mean sectors like cloud computing and the internet of things, but also e-government services around Europe enjoy the best possible conditions to grow. Our Digital Single Market is also about an inclusive society where people have the right digital skills to seize these new job opportunities.


Who do you predict will be the biggest winners of a Digital Single Market?

We should all win in the Digital Single Market: from consumers to SMEs and start-ups, from the creative sector to industry. Consumers will be better protected when buying online and having better access to products and services across EU.

They should enjoy lower parcel delivery prices, better telecom services and high speed internet. SMEs should have clearer rules to sell cross-border and scale-up businesses in a market of more than 500 million consumers. A company based in one country should enjoy the same consumer law, fewer burdens dealing with public administration, more market access through public e-procurement and e-signatures. 

Media rules should be adapted to the digital age. The creative sector should be protected by better enforcement of rights and actions to combat piracy, a fairer remuneration of rights with the participation of all players in the value chain. Industry should have clearer rules to develop and a level-playing field for competing actors in the market.

Cloud computing should be safe to use. Standards and greater interoperability in all sectors such as energy, transport and health should help to develop products and services faster, boost innovation and reduce costs. In other words, everyone is a winner.


You previously served as prime ministerof Estonia. How has that helped prepareyou for your role at the EC?

I have been now active in politics for 17 years, of which nine years I served as prime minister. As prime minister, I was trusted to lead three different coalition governments consisting of both centre right and centre-left parties. I have led all my cabinets with the understanding that one needs to find consensus, act as a bridge-builder, in order to achieve common goals.

I have had the opportunity to be at the forefront of a digital transformation of a country, which today excels in multiple areas of e-government, safe and secure private and public digital solutions, and which takes cyber security and data protection seriously. 

Just a few examples – during the last EP elections, 33% of the votes cast in Estonia were given via the internet through an e-voting system, used for the very first time in the world for general elections in 2005. It is also estimated, that the wide uptake of digital signature in public and private transactions saves the Estonian economy a whole working week every year.

As prime minister I also initiated, together with my Finnish, Danish and Dutch colleagues, a letter addressed to the June European Council in 2010, which called for the establishment of a 'Digital Single Market for the EU'. I've been a fervent supporter of this goal through all the European Council meetings.


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