At the beginning of its mandate in 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker made progress toward a connected European Digital Single Market (DSM) a key priority for the newly-appointed European Commission. The observation was simple: since digital technologies know no borders, the rules framing their development should follow the same logic.
The plan laid down in the 2015 Communication “a Strategy for a Digital Single Market” was particularly ambitious. It balanced symbolic measures with tangible impact on EU citizens and offered clear communicative value, with technical yet potentially disruptive proposals that are instrumental in connecting national digital markets.
The deadline set by the Commission to wrap up the negotiation on all the DSM files is getting dangerously close and reaching agreements on the remaining 12 files before the end of 2018 will be an uphill struggle.
The European Commission’s strategy for completing the Digital Single Market rests on three complementary pillars that translated into 29 legislative proposals and a series of complementary initiatives sharing the same core objective to “unlock the digital potential of Europe”.
- Bringing the benefits of a digital single market to consumer and business by providing them with better access to online goods and services across Europe, with reforms on parcel delivery, geo-blocking, copyright rules, contract rules for businesses (on the Sales of Goods and Digital Content) and value added tax.
- Creating the right conditions for digital networks and services to flourish, especially through an effort to harmonize rules at European level and foster cooperation – as witnessed by the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation, the overhaul of the telecoms rules and the Cybersecurity package.
- Maximizing the growth potential of our European Digital Economy, translating into legislation that addresses barriers businesses face (Regulation on the free flow of data, or by promoting standardization and interoperability) as well as non-legislative proposals aiming at reinforcing Europeans’ digital skills.
European legislators have reached agreements on 17 of the 29 legislative proposals presented by the Commission so far. EU Institutions communicated heavily on early successes with the adoption of legislation on Free Roaming, Portability of online content and Geo-blocking, but also managed to agree on key legislative files such as the General Data Protection Regulation, the Regulation on the free flow of data or the overhaul of VAT rules for e-commerce.
The work, however, is far from over. The European Commission reiterated that all proposals should be agreed by the end of 2018, putting additional pressure on an already overloaded legislative agenda.
The Austrian Presidency will have to navigate difficult files, in particular the ePrivacy Regulation on which member states have been blocked for months, and deliver on new legislative proposals such as the Platform-to-business Regulation. While those two proposals do appear in the Austrian Presidency’s priorities, other files might fall in limbo, like the Digital contract rules Directives that have been moving at different pace, causing increasing uncertainties for businesses.
With the ongoing and upcoming trilogue negotiations, the European Parliament also has its fair share of responsibilities in ensuring all legislations are adopted this year. The toughest battle will be the negotiation over the reform of Copyright rules, which are back on the table in September after a rare rejection of the bill during the EP Plenary on 11 July.
The pressure to agree on the remaining files arrives at the same time as other major negotiations, including talks on the European Multi-Financial Framework and sector-specific programs which will determine the resources attributed to the DSM. It is also amplified by the looming uncertainties created by Brexit and the European elections next May, which will be sure to delay greatly any ongoing negotiations.