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25 Jan, 2014

Future of the Digital Age: “Europe can prove it is more trustworthy than U.S.”


World Economic Forum, Davos, 22 January 2014 – The global revelations of spying by the US National Security Agency have undermined the competitive position of American companies and opened up a big opportunity for Europe to become “known as the world’s safest, securest online space.” Speaking at the Davos World Economic Forum, Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, said Europe can help create “safeguards that mean people can trust big data and seize online opportunity.”

The following is the full text of her speech, entitled “A Vision for Europe”

Begin text

Europe is in troubled times.

Around us we all see the consequences.

People, especially young people, without work and without hope.

Citizens losing confidence and conviction in politicians, even in politics itself. Sometimes they turn to extremes, sometimes they don’t vote at all.

While an older generation talks austerely of austerity, the younger one finds it impossible to make plans, deliver dreams, achieve opportunities.

Meanwhile Governments must assure a better future for their citizens even amid severe financial pressure.

What’s the solution?

I am clear. To emerge sustainably from crisis, we must support and invest in tomorrow’s sources of growth. In tomorrow’s opportunities.

It’s time to remember what Europe is here to do.

The positive promise we are here to make.

To unify and connect our nations. To build confidence and hope. To promote prosperity and empower people.

We need to deliver that for the 21st century.

And I am clear how we can do that.

Europe is about founding a new kind of community – one not constrained by historical legacies, or geographic limits – one without borders or barriers. And we also now have a technological tool to do that too: to unite people, help them, improve their lives, and boost our economy: the amazing power of the Internet.

From sales to scientific research, doctors to drivers; these tools offer a new platform and a new tool to improve everything we do.

There are many things that are uncertain about the future. But it is clear to me that the future lies online. For so many areas of life.

Do we want European leadership? European competitiveness? A bright European future? If we do – in ANY area – we need a continent prepared for the digital age.

That is why I have a clear vision for a strong, digital Europe. Connected, open and secure.

First: connected, with every European able to enjoy fast broadband at home, at work, and wherever they roam. With a strong telecoms sector investing and innovating without borders or barriers. With revenues coming – not from old rip-offs – but from new digital services, revenues that in turn encourage investment in new networks.

Take an issue like roaming – something so irritating to so many citizens. It’s probably irritating you right now here in Switzerland.

But more than that: it stands in the way of digital development, and of the EU’s single market.

European lawmakers have the power to end it: to end all charges for incoming calls, and to let new pan-European roaming deals onto the market. And I hope they will have the vision and good sense to do so.

Second, open: unleashing the Internet’s full potential, the power of this amazing innovative platform. Through public open data, open access to science, and guaranteed access to the open internet. And indeed we are consulting on copyright, to modernise those rules. To make them fit for the new open era, and fit for our single market.

And we must also ensure that the network itself is governed in an open and transparent way. Like with processes that are more inclusive and accountable. Reinforcing the multi-stakeholder model.

The alternative is that the entire system will lose credibility and confidence. Different countries heading in different directions would be a dangerous development. We must keep the coherence and capability of the one Internet: single, unified, innovative.

And, third, the online world must be secure.

Many of us were shocked by the recent revelations of online spying, and invading privacy.

There’s a number of ways you can respond. One is cynicism; that this is inevitable and we should just accept it. One is to retreat: to stop using digital tools, and or put up barriers to them developing further. One is fury: to be outraged that people are trying to spy.

But, serious though this issue is, our answer cannot be extreme. For one thing, it would be dangerous, as we turn our backs on a huge digital opportunity. Like the huge economic and social innovations of big data; it would be a disaster to turn those down, and we can’t afford that.

And for another, it could be naïve. Spying is not going to stop – it’s the world’s second oldest profession. Asking people to stop spying, or tinkering with the law to make spying illegal, is not going to fix the problem: we need to protect ourselves.

The NSA revelations are a big let-down for American companies, undermining their competitive position. But they’re a big opportunity for Europe. Imagine if we became known as the world’s safest, securest online space.

Like by ensuring safe trustworthy cloud services; imposing legal obligations to manage cyber risks; having effective systems to prove you are who you say you are online. Better cooperating and combining our strengths. Investing in research and innovation – including for, say, quantum computers and encryption technology. And with a vibrant European market providing the tools you need to stay secure. Ensuring the safeguards that mean people can trust big data and seize online opportunity.

That is the kind of continent we can create.

We have the power to do that. But that takes a different kind of investment: to need to consider the citizens’ interest, the economy’s interest, the European interest — not just the vested interest.

Adapting to digital change may be essential: but it is not easy. There are bumps and consequences along the way.

Old sectors decline, and so do jobs the offer. They are replaced by new positions requiring different skills.

As digital tools bring communities together, they may also separate them; as a hyperconnected world can ironically mean less genuine interaction, and communities, not integrating, but separating.

As old challenges become simpler, others emerge: like of assuring the security, resilience and privacy of online systems. Going online cannot mean waving goodbye to fundamental rights.

And – as free and open as the internet is, old ways of operating can limit it: we must adapt to seize that opportunity.

I know that is not easy; but it is inevitable. We do it well, or we do it badly; to avoid it happening is not an option. We either ride this wave: or drown it.

It needs the right environment and the right infrastructure. To stimulate innovation, generate jobs, and increase trust.

Europe working for tech so that tech can work for Europe.

One of the themes here in Davos is sustainable development. What does that mean? It means adapting to your environment, to fit the world you live in.

Companies have to do that in many ways.

Like when they move from a protected market to a dynamic competitive one: companies must adapt to be sustainable.

Like when they recognise the impact of their business on the environment: companies must adapt to be sustainable.

But now there’s a new change. The world, and the environment in which we operate, is going digital. Again, to fit that new digital reality, companies must adapt to be sustainable.

That is what sustainable development means in the digital age.

Take telecoms companies. Too often, business models are still based on yesterday’s services and yesterday’s rip-offs, rather than the digital opportunities of tomorrow. Their ambitions are fitted to national markets, and constrained within national borders; they cannot reach the scale for global success.

That status quo not sustainable. When telcos could be facing the future.

Offering dynamic, tailored, innovative services that to serve every citizen, boost every business; that people will value and be prepared to pay for.

Frustrating your customers, and frustrating the economy’s need for connectivity, is not sustainable; when you could be providing the essential infrastructure and pervasive broadband every European is crying out for.

Europe’s leaders have recognised the large and growing role digital plays in our economy. And they have supported our plans to bring down the barriers that stand in the way.

2014 could be the year when MEPs and national ministers agree to make that happen. To create a connected continent. To ensure resilient and secure networks and systems. To adapt to the benefits of a new open era. To prevent unfair blocking of online services. And to make

roaming rip-offs a thing of the past in Europe. Most of all, to ensure Europe the infrastructure it needs to face the future, creating a connected competitive continent.

I hope they agree to do so.