Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me here today to mark the first 10 years of this influential think tank.

The subject of this morning's conference intrigued me: productivity, innovation and digitalisation. Do they represent a global challenge?

Given how much the world is being linked by digital technology – and how fast technology changes – then the answer is definitely yes.

Of course, these three elements are closely interlinked; in fact, mutually dependent. They also have a strong and direct relation with a fourth element: competitiveness.

In Europe, our business and industry have been quite slow to take advantage of advanced digital technologies - mobile, social media, cloud, big data.

Under two percent of EU companies make full use of such technologies. About 40% do not use any at all. Making more and better use of IT processes will bring many operational and commercial advantages. Just think of automation, sustainable and clean manufacturing, processing technologies.

Going digital will increase flexibility, efficiency, productivity and competitiveness, as well as creating jobs.

However, we cannot build a data-driven economy which functions properly – or which can reach its full potential - without first removing a series of barriers.

That is why our Digital Single Market strategy addresses immediate issues, as well as looking to the future. Rather like building a house, you do it from the bottom up.

What kind of barriers?

Some are technical, some are administrative or legal. It could be patchy or slow internet connections as you travel around Europe. Technical disparities that prevent networks and devices from linking smoothly together because they cannot be properly connected, or because the standards being used vary too much between countries.

Or different national rules and permitted exceptions around 28 EU countries – copyright, consumer law, for example.

We plan to fix all the issues that are holding back the development of a genuine single market for the digital age and creating a drag on competitiveness. And we have already started – this is not for the far-flung future, or the end of our mandate. It is now. Decisions to end roaming are being finalised and it will be the first tangible result. 

From July 15th 2017, roaming in the EU will be abolished.

This will encourage cross-border mobile use, help to facilitate cross-border access and flow of data and give boost to new innovative services in a free open internet with no blocking and no throttling of services for the consumers.

That way, everyone – people as well as companies, and not only in Europe - will be able to enjoy the best that the online world has to offer, to get the most from digital and data technologies.

While we get on with tackling these and other problems, we also have to get ready for the future.

Technology rarely stands still, if ever. It is constantly on the move. So we have to focus on keeping Europe at the cutting edge of new developments, at the forefront of innovation.

Fortunately, our tech industries enjoy a wealth of skill and know-how. They are leaders in several ICT sectors which have great digital growth potential, like robotics and embedded systems.

Europe is already pretty good at digital innovation. Here, there is certainly no lack of creative talent or innovative capacity: business as well as brainpower.

Take tech startups. Globally, this sector is booming and shows no sign of slowing down. Four of the world's top 20 startup ecosystems are in the EU, with growing rates of exit value. But that does not mean that today's environment is optimal for them.

European startups still find it difficult to expand their business, to scale up and get the most from a marketplace of more than 500 million consumers.

Nobody creates more jobs than startups and other young companies. It is why everything we do in the DSM strategy aims to support startups, to help them to expand beyond national borders.

Ladies and gentlemen

If I had to express my views about the digital future – that of Europe or indeed, of the whole world - I could do it with one word: data.

The digital economy revolves around data. It is the driving force behind those three main elements of productivity, innovation and digitalisation.

There are many aspects of data to be considered, not just data protection – where I am pleased to say we are moving forward with reforming EU rules.

Ownership and management of data flows, use and re-use of data. Management and storage of data.

These underpin important emerging sectors like cloud computing, the Internet of Things and big data. Online platforms are also pivotal in this regard, and I will return to them shortly.

These sectors are central to the EU’s future competitiveness and economic growth.

The big data sector is growing by 40% per year, seven times faster than the overall IT market.

Cloud computing is also a huge growth market, whose value in Europe is expected to be almost five times more in 2020 than it is today.

The DSM strategy recognises the clear need to 'get ahead' with data. Too often we Europeans are worried, are hesitant, when we speak about data.

But let us not lose time being afraid - let us build an open and vibrant data economy. We can build it on top of the safe data protection rules in place soon: better services for people and communities; more opportunities for innovative businesses. This is why, next year, we will present initiatives on free flow of data and cloud computing.

The first of these will tackle restrictions on the free movement of data and many of the other aspects of data that I just mentioned.

With cloud computing, we will be looking at services certification, contracts, switching of cloud services providers and a research open science cloud.

Now let me return to online platforms. Their sheer variety is amazing: social media, film and music, e-commerce, search engines, just to start with.

With more than one trillion webpages on the internet - and more appearing every day - platforms are an important way of bringing people and online information together.

It would be hard to imagine life without them. They have become very influential and, to an extent, are responsible for shaping our online behaviour.

That is also where there is a potential challenge, both for Europe and worldwide.

Since platforms generate, accumulate and control an enormous amount of data, their role has become pivotal – and not only as an 'online gatekeeper'. There is only a very limited part of the economy that will not depend on them in the near future.

Platforms certainly contribute a great deal to Europe's society and economy. They have innovated considerably, transforming whole sectors and challenging traditional business models.

But there are concerns from many quarters about their control of data, market strength and bargaining power, as well as various aspects related to access.

The accumulation and use of data by certain platforms can contribute to their market power, particularly in their relationship with data suppliers.

We are now gathering evidence on these issues – because first, we need to know and understand clearly whether there really are problems – and if yes, how to deal with them.

We will also look into issues such as access and openness. Platforms should be instruments of opportunity. This is important to industry.

To that end, we will consult extensively from September to spring next year with all parties involved. And we will carefully consider if new measures are needed and what impact they might have on incentives to innovate and deliver new services. We will approach this exercise carefully, seriously and openly.

Ladies and gentlemen

I hope I have given you some idea of how I see Europe's digital future. There is certainly a great deal of potential, and also a great deal of work to do to realise the vision.

That is the point of the DSM strategy: to make sure that we make the most of the great potential that the online age offers us.

Thank you.