Greetings from Brussels!
There appears to be much being said in the coffee bars and corridors of Brussels on matters digital. This last week has seen a number of announcements receiving a good deal of media attention, all of which have significant implications in the area of international data flows.
On the one hand, EU officials have confirmed that negotiations on the free flow of data could be considered as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but only after an agreement is reached on the EU’s data protection regulation. Up until now, EU officials have said that they wanted data kept firmly off the table; acknowledging that it will eventually be discussed in the negotiations therefore represents a significant shift in position. One would have to assume that from the U.S. perspective, a TTIP agreement will only be realized if data is included; U.S. firms provide the lion's share of the cloud computing solutions to the world market.
On the other hand, on Wednesday, the European Commission unveiled planned reforms of the 28-member digital market aimed at boosting e-commerce, overhauling Europe’s telecoms market and making all media products and services equally accessible across Europe, regardless of their nature. Taking this approach to greater digital access for businesses and consumers and given that the latter, by and large, conduct their online shopping domestically—due to restrictions or trust issues in using foreign websites—we could see meaningful shifts in consumer behavior as well as a considerable increase in international data flows in the future.
The European Commission seems to be calling for the EU to get rid of the obstacles that prevent it from functioning as an homogenous digital economy—one comparable to that of the U.S. To achieve this, current rules on everything from telecoms, security and data protection will need to be aligned.
What is clear and broadly accepted here is that Europe may not be a recognized pioneer and leader of the digital age with 28 sets of rules and regulations governing data protection, security and telecoms. Incidentally, this view is shared by the EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society Günther H. Oettinger.
“Let us 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,” said Vice President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip.
Ambitious plans are afoot for a truly digital Europe it seems. We will have to wait and see when and how Europe can deliver on such a future promise.
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