And I asked what Europe could do to improve people’s quality of life, create jobs and prosperity.
One of the best places to do this was by improving online access.
Not just connections, but actual access: to goods offered for sale on websites; to digital services and online content like TV and sports programmes when you travel to another EU country; to access for museums to make digital copies of important out-of-copyright works.
Back then, the European Union and its people faced a string of barriers in all these areas.
From my first day in office, geo-blocking was a major annoyance. This is a practice where websites and online services are blocked due to someone’s location, nationality or residence.
It used to be an unwelcome everyday reality, and a massive barrier to online shopping.
In 2015, only 37% of websites allowed shoppers wanting to buy from another EU country to reach the final step before completing their purchase by entering payment details.
Then, against their will, they might be re-routed to an equivalent national site - but often to one with different availability and pricing of the products and services on offer.
At that time, just 15% of consumers bought online from other EU countries, while 44% did so domestically. Only 7% of small and medium-sized businesses in the EU sold into different countries than their own.
These small amounts demonstrate just how straitjacketed, and underdeveloped this sector used to be. Disappointing, given that the EU is one of the largest e-commerce markets in the world with a massive potential as a retail spending market.
Now, thanks to the DSM, unjustified geo-blocking is history – and I am proud that the EU’s new law abolishing unjustified geo-blocking entered into force at the end of 2018.
It is making a real difference to online retail in Europe.
A huge boost for e-commerce across Europe
In 2018, 69% of internet users in the EU shopped online without any problem.
This compares with 55% two years earlier. Last year, 36% of e-buyers bought from sellers in other EU countries. In 2013, that figure was just 26%. The trend is definitely improving.
The DSM has ironed out other e-commerce issues as well – you can read more here.
High parcel delivery costs, for example, where the charges for getting what you bought online sent to where you live were a major deterrent for online buyers and sellers, especially for those dealing in low volumes.
In 2015, the cost of sending something that you bought from a website in one EU country to your home address in another was often significantly more than for national delivery.
The average price difference was 2-5 times more – but could reach up to 22 times higher.
Since postal operators are obliged to be more transparent, people can have a much better idea of what is a reasonable price.
They can choose not to pay that price – or just shop elsewhere.
In terms of complying with VAT obligations, from 2021 online retailers will face much less red tape when they sell in other EU countries: another boost to EU cross-border e-commerce.
EU businesses will be able to compete on an equal footing with non-EU rivals that do not charge VAT. EU countries should see VAT revenues rise by €7 billion annually.
A new electronic business portal for VAT – a 'one-stop shop' - will enable companies selling goods online to deal with their VAT obligations in the EU through one easy-to-use online portal in their own language. This will cut VAT compliance costs significantly and allow businesses across the EU to save €2.3 billion a year - thanks to the DSM.
Other access problems: digital services and online content
In less than a decade, Europe’s media landscape has shifted dramatically.
Instead of sitting in front of the family TV, millions of Europeans, especially young people, watch content online, on demand and on different mobile devices.
Online TV is a good example. While 41% of Europeans watch TV online, 50% of young people aged between 15 and 24 do this at least once a week.
As with other goods and services, audio-visual (AV) media are subject to the rules of the single European market. Our AV rules of the time did not reflect these new consumer habits, cultural demands or the prevalence of new technologies. They were overdue for an update.
I always travel with my smartphone and tablet.
I know the convenience of getting online at an acceptable connection speed wherever I am, to download and stream my subscribed news, music and TV shows, to do the same things that I would at home without extra cost, without extra hassle.
Many thousands of people around Europe, especially younger people, feel the same way. Digital access, ease and convenience are important to them.
We knew that the DSM had to make all this possible – for everyone, everywhere in Europe.
So, in April 2018, a new law came into force across all EU countries. It allows people who have signed up to online services in one EU country – for books, music, games, films, drama, sport – to use those services when they are temporarily present in another.
If you have paid for access rights, say to a film, in your home country, you can watch it if you cross an internal EU border. It means that Portuguese video-on-demand films should be available in France, or French films available in Poland.
Before, online subscribers were often denied this right.
Now, if they are on the move around Europe, their lives are a lot easier and more convenient, especially since roaming surcharges ended back in 2015. Europe now has effectively a ‘new roaming’ for TV series, sports, music and e-books.
A good example is trying to access streaming services abroad that are normally available when you are at home. In 2017, more than 50% of Europeans who tried to access live sports events could not do so. For films and TV series, the figure was above 40%.
Since the law came into force, 49% of people who subscribe to online content services have tried to access them when visiting another EU country. A majority, 58%, said that this worked well.
It is a huge improvement in the space of one year.
Updating Europe’s laws on broadcasting and copyright
Online programming is often unavailable in EU countries that are not their country of origin, even if there could be a potential high demand. For broadcasters to clear the necessary rights to do this was complex, making it difficult for them to develop services across borders.
We wanted to make licensing easier for broadcasters to make content available to people wherever they are in the EU. With retransmissions, for example, to include technologies other than cable, like internet TV.
They affect – directly and daily - many millions of viewers who move between EU countries and want to watch online TV programmes.
This is something that really matters to people. In 2014, the reality was that 67% of all films were only shown in one country: an effective ‘cultural lock-in’, where very little content – only between 1% and 15% - was accessible on ‘play’ services in different countries.
Since then, under the DSM, Europe’s broadcasting landscape has dramatically altered.
The EU’s updated rules will make it easier for European broadcasters to make certain programmes available on their live TV or catch-up services online.
Today, just looking at in-house productions by public broadcasters, they can help to double the content that broadcasters make available online and across EU country borders.
To complement this, we extended the scope of another AV law covering traditional TV broadcasters and video on-demand services to include video-sharing platforms. And we did more: this law – the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive – strengthens the protection of minors and reinforces the battle against hate speech in all AV content.
It promotes European AV productions by guaranteeing them a 30% share in on-demand catalogues. More European works to be enjoyed by more Europeans.
Broadcasters also get more flexibility as to when they can show advertising.
Reforming EU copyright law proved to be one of the most controversial parts of the DSM project. Overall, 4.2% of the EU’s GDP derives from copyright-intensive sectors.
We had two main aims, along with making more films, series and other cultural material available between EU countries. These were to make sure that artists were paid fairly for their work, particularly for online use, and to protect freedom of expression and creativity on the internet.
But it was also about other aspects relating to access to cultural content.
For example, we made it easier for museums to make digital copies of important out-of-copyright works to preserve them – such as transferring old VHS tapes to computers – by reducing the high costs to clear the many rights to preserve just one audio-visual work.
Teachers will also find it easier to use protected material for their courses, non-commercially.
This concludes my series of blogs about what we have done to build a DSM in Europe for everyone to be able to make the most of digital opportunity.