Tussling for the Soul of EU's Digital Economy Agenda

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A little while ago I wrote about the worrying signs that the imminent Digital Economy Agenda, currently being drawn up by Neelie Kroes, was under massive pressure to water down its commitment to openness and interoperability. The good news is that ranged against those negative forces, there are others working for a fairer approach, as manifest in the Granada Ministerial Declaration on the European Digital Agenda [.pdf]:

Here are some of the most interesting sections:

5. Safeguard the openness of the internet through implementing and monitoring of the new EU electronic communications rules on network provision.

15. With regard to intellectual property rights, actively promote the development of European digital content markets through practical solutions to promote new business models and concrete measures to reduce market fragmentation for the reuse and access to digital content, while protecting and assuring the fair remuneration of rights holders.

17. Encourage the supply and access to the legal offer of high-quality content and respect of copyright on the internet through easing the complexity of multiterritorial licensing.

18. Stimulate transborder e-commerce by the promotion, and government adoption, of interoperable e-procurement, e-invoicing and e-payment systems based on open and flexible technologies.

21. Embed innovation and cost effectiveness into eGovernment through the systematic promotion of open standards and interoperable systems, development of EU wide e-authentication schemes and proactive development of e-invoicing, e-procurement (and pre-commercial procurement).

Two things strike me about these.

The first is the use of the words “openness”, “interoperable” and “open standards and interoperable systems.” The devil, of course, is in the details, but these are hopeful signs. I am also pleasantly surprised that the emphasis is not on “annihilate the pirates at all costs, including European liberty”, but on rather more balanced ideas of “ new business models” and “legal offer of high-quality content”.

There are even some indications that Ms Kroes is thinking along these very lines. She was present at the unveiling of this declaration, and said that among "key areas and main obstacles which will be addressed by the European Digital Agenda that the Commission will adopt in the next few weeks" was:

Lack of interoperability: Europe does not yet reap the maximum benefit from interoperability. Weaknesses in standard-setting, public procurement and coordination prevent digital services and devices used by Europeans from working together as well as they should.

Moreover, she made the following point, which suggests she really does get it:

"While the internet is borderless, Europe’s online markets are not. It is often easier to buy something from a US website than from the next-door country in Europe. Often you cannot buy it at all within Europe. For instance, consumers can buy CDs in every shop but are often unable to buy music online across the EU because rights are licensed on a national basis. One result is that the US market for online music is five times bigger than Europe's. Another result is that for the moment one could almost say that the only existing Digital Single Market for audiovisual material is the illegal one. People are able to access content EU wide but only through illegal file-sharing whereas much content from other Member States is not on offer at all. I am convinced that creating the legal Digital Single Market will lead to a wealth of options available to citizens. This will strike a blow against piracy to the benefit of authors and artists, and without endangering the open architecture that is essential for the internet's utility. It is obviously common sense that we fix problems like this."

Let's hope I'm not disappointed when the Digital Economy Agenda is unveiled.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

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