Europe 'must create single digital market to make EU competitive'

Patchwork of laws between states holding back business, warns commissioner

More must be done to create a single digital market for Europe to remain competitive in the global economy, the EU's digital commissioner has warned.

Gnther Oettinger, commissioner for the digital economy and society said that companies operating in the EU are subject to a patchwork of rules and laws across EU member states, and claimed this is holding back business.

"Europe cannot be at the forefront of the digital revolution with a patchwork of 28 different rules for telecoms services, copyright, IT security and data protection," he said.

"We need a European market which allows new business models to flourish, start-ups to grow and the industry to take advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT). And people have to invest too - in their IT skills, be it in their job or their leisure time."

Among the main areas the European Commission (EC) wants to tackle is geo-blocking, where Europeans in one country cannot access services in another EU state, or are rerouted to a local store with a different set of prices.

The EC also wants to bolster cross-border e-commerce, with a focus on SMBs, by taking measures such as harmonising consumer and contract rules across member states, as well as introducing more efficient and affordable parcel delivery.

Today only 15 per cent of consumers shop online from another EU country which is not surprising, said the EC, if the delivery charge ends up higher than the actual price of the product.

It also wants to simplify VAT arrangements. The Commission said it was important to boost the cross-border activities of businesses, especially SMBs.

"The cost and complexity of having to deal with foreign tax rules are a major problem for SMEs. The VAT-related costs due to different requirements are estimated at 80 billion," it said.

Also on the single digital market agenda is the modernisation of copyright law "to ensure the right balance between the interests of creators and those of users or consumers".

Andrus Ansip, EC's vice-president for the digital single market, said that it was time to "do away with all those fences and walls that block us online".

"People must be able to freely go across borders online just as they do offline. Innovative businesses must be helped to grow across the EU, not remain locked into their home market," added Ansip.

"This will be an uphill struggle all the way, but we need an ambitious start. Europe should benefit fully from the digital age: better services, more participation and new jobs."

The EC are due to submit proposals on its digital single market strategy to the European Council in May.

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