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Digital strengthening of Europe and uniform application of the GDPR

July 2020 by Association éco

The internet sector is becoming increasingly important for the economy as a whole and also promotes value creation in other sectors, thus ensuring Europe’s innovative capacity as a business location. As such, the Internet industry is an important driver of Europe’s overall economy and the European economy as a whole will benefit in the long term from a strong Internet sector.

In order to enable Europe to recover in the long term from the consequences of the coronavirus crisis, eco also calls on policy makers to undertake fundamental reforms in the areas of digital literacy, digital infrastructure, IT security and data protection. In addition, the current virtual internal borders within the EU must be abolished, EU programmes for digital support must be extended and a level playing field must be created for start-ups and SMEs.

Mr. Süme, Chairman of the Board of eco, expressed his expectation that Germany will make a strong commitment during its EU Council Presidency to close the policy gaps in these areas and to strengthen digitisation throughout the EU in the long term.

A uniform European legal framework created by the GDPR was the first step towards a responsible European data policy. However, its implementation still raises many practical issues and problems, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises. Businesses need clear rules and pragmatic assistance to implement them.

For the Internet Industry Association, Europe has set the framework for the future of personal data protection with the GDPR. Fragmented regulation, which was previously treated according to different national data protection laws, has been brought together and implemented according to the same principles in a central European regulation.

In order to follow up on the main digital projects and targets, eco calls for the creation of a permanent pan-european round table on "Digitisation", composed of national industry representatives through delegates of the associations.
To mark the start of the German EU Council Presidency, the Internet Industry Association has also drawn up a six-point catalogue of requirements, containing the most important objectives and conditions for a strong single European digital market :

1. Establish and standardise reliable levels of IT protection and data security at European level
The EU must ensure that Member States implement and apply the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in a uniform and consistent manner. The GDPR has created the basis for uniform data protection in Europe. Fragmentation of European data protection must be avoided. The field of IT security and IT security technologies should be extended and promoted. In addition, the EU must ensure a pan-european approach in the fight against cybercriminals. This also includes a cooperative approach to dealing with hate content and misinformation, the responsibility for which should not be imposed unilaterally on industry, but should also involve.

2. Extending funding programmes for the digital sector to strengthen research, innovation and competitiveness
Funding from EU framework programmes such as Horizon Europe, which starts next year, needs to be further extended to ensure that digitisation progresses across Europe. The focus here should be on the issues of artificial intelligence, mobility, industry, manufacturing, health, digital and media literacy, as well as climate protection and sustainability. A more direct and unbureaucratic funding policy can also encourage target groups in the field of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to become enthusiastic about digitisation and to lead the digital transformation in a sustainable way.

3. Proactively addressing digital infrastructure and digital sovereignty on a pan-european level
To achieve greater digitalisation and competitiveness in the EU, high-performance gigabit infrastructure and modern mobile networks need to be available throughout Europe and strengthened in all states. A well-functioning digital infrastructure ecosystem includes high-performance data centres, internet exchanges, cloud infrastructures and co-location providers. High-performance digital infrastructures are the basis for digitalisation. The EU must therefore develop a coherent strategy to ensure European digital sovereignty based on high-performance digital infrastructures. Current plans to strengthen digital sovereignty in Europe through cloud computing projects, such as GAIA-X, should therefore be promoted at European level.

4. Removing virtual internal borders and ensuring the free flow of data within the EU
Within the EU, it must be possible, as a matter of principle, to offer services, including public procurement, more easily from any member state. Appropriate conditions must be created for service providers and digital infrastructure operators, also with a view to strengthening Europe’s position as a digital location in international competition. Other areas which are still highly fragmented and clearly defined by national rules in the respective member states, such as European consumer law or copyright, should be further standardised in line with the single digital market concept.

5. Creating minimum standards across Europe for digital teaching and learning concepts
An economy and society shaped by automation, digitalisation and networking require a comprehensive system of education and training in information technology that takes into account technical, application and socio-cultural perspectives. To achieve this goal, standards must be established across Europe to provide digital literacy skills. Teachers in all schools and higher education systems in Europe must receive appropriate training and development. In addition, in all states, the IT infrastructure in conference rooms and classrooms must be developed and investments must be made in technical equipment. Today’s pupils, trainees and students are tomorrow’s professionals, and digital skills make it possible to participate in future economic and social developments. Continuing education in IT must address all sectors, but also the current generation of employees. Digital education « made in Europe » is the guarantee for a secure supply of IT specialists in Europe and for Europe as a forward-looking business location.

6. Establishing a level playing field for start-ups and SMEs
In the EU’s single market, new businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) currently face major challenges. In order to create a level playing field, legislative proposals should take their needs and problems into account. Many recent vertical legislative initiatives in the digital sector did not sufficiently reflect their needs and focused on global companies and their technical and financial potential (copyright, online terrorist content, P2B regulation, etc.).

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