Tech experts have their say on the EU Digital Single Market

Five IT pros give their views on whether the proposed DSM is a good idea.

Amid all the clamour around a Brexit and Safe Harbor, the European Union’s proposed Digital Single Market [DSM] strategy has flown somewhat under the radar.

“In the European Union, we were able to create this single market in physical form. We were able to tear down all those barriers dividing our member states. But a digital single market doesn’t exist,” Andrus Ansip, vice president for the European Commission and one of the driving forces behind the DSM, told Re/Code recently. “Instead of having single rules, we have 28 different rules dealing with online sales of perishable goods, for example. And potentially we have 28 different rules dealing with online sales of digital content. Fifty-six different rules.”

The idea of the DSM would be to remove various national regulations around eCommerce and other online services, and enable anyone within the union to buy from any online service within the EU block. The aim would be to provide more and better services for customers and give smaller businesses a greater market opportunity. Estimates suggest the DSM would create some €415 billion in growth and jobs.

How do some of Europe’s technology professionals feel about the proposed Digital Single Market? We asked five to gauge opinion on the matter:


Marco Comastri President and GM, EMEA, at CA Technologies

One of the key challenges that the technology industry in Europe faces is a large skills gap. Whereas in Asia, STEM students account for up to 20% of the student population, European STEM students make up just 2%. As the application economy continues to expand, non-traditional IT companies are demanding the same skills that ICT companies have required for decades. Therefore there is an even greater demand for highly skilled tech workers. The proposed European Digital Single Market will allow not only for more mobility of people, services and goods but would fuel a more collaborative and coordinated approach to talent cultivation and enablement across borders, helping the industry tackle the skills gap on a European level. With this in mind, CA Technologies strongly supports the proposed European DSM and believes it should be recognised as one of the core priorities for European growth.

Wholeheartedly embracing this digital transformation is crucial in making the Digital Single Market a success. It also means embracing the acceptance of the borderless nature of this transformation.


Dr Chris Harding, director for interoperability at The Open Group

Every year on 28 January, the European Commission celebrates Data Protection day. This year, they took the opportunity to congratulate themselves on reaching agreement with the European Parliament and Council on data protection rules. This is a key part of the creation of an environment where digital networks and services can prosper, one of the three main policy areas of the Digital Single Market strategy.

Like many of the initiatives in this mixed bag of a strategy, data protection is important, and the rules look useful. We do need easier access to our data, the ability to transfer our data between service providers, the right for our data to be deleted when no longer needed, and the right to know when our data has been hacked. I just hope that they don't get lost amongst all the other things that the Commission wants to tell us. February 11th is 112 (emergency telephone number) day. After just two weeks, we move on to another headline. Data protection deserves more of our attention.


Ross Mason, founder of Mulesoft

Ensuring the free flow and movement of data today is as critical to Europe’s future as ensuring the free flow of money many years ago when the European Union was first formed. 

The European Commission is desperately trying to keep pace in the new global API economy, but has the difficult task of extending slower moving countries and businesses into the digital era. While the US economy benefits from a digital Darwinism, those in Europe still wait to see whether the carrot or stick approach will be needed to finally spring the free movement of data.


Richard Oliphant, EMEA General Counsel, DocuSign

Cross-border eCommerce is the focal point of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market. The success of the Digital Single Market is dependent on encouraging businesses and consumers to have confidence in the security of online services and electronic transactions.

The European Commission has concluded that the current e-Signature Directive (1999/93/EC) which has been in force since 2000 has not had the desired effect and will not advance the Digital Single Market. From 1 July 2016, the new Electronic Identification and Trust Services Regulation (EU/910/2014) will come into force. The e-IDAS Regulation will create greater - though not complete - harmonisation of laws around electronic signatures, and will enhance trust in electronic transactions across the EU.

The e-IDAS Regulation is to be welcomed as it offers a more certain legal framework for electronic signatures across the EU and will help galvanise the Digital Single Market. The benefits are far-reaching: tech companies can save themselves millions of pounds by switching their paper-based transaction processes to digital. The ability to securely sign and send documents across borders electronically will reduce printing and faxing costs, and the digital audit trail helps ensure the authenticity and integrity of the transaction. All of this will mean turn-around time is drastically reduced, and tech companies will be able to do business at a faster rate.


Simon Acott, Director at Exponential-e

It’s no surprise that the EU parliament is aiming to tear down regulatory walls to seamless online commerce in the EU. Major online providers such as Amazon and eBay have already crossed borders and made the country of transaction as irrelevant as possible. But the proposed digital single market (DSM) will also make a difference to smaller companies who wish to widen their market reach. While the reduction in red tape is of little concern to multinationals, it will mean that much smaller businesses can also safely transact across borders.

Whether the DSM will make much difference to consumer confidence is another matter. There are a multitude of reasons why Europeans prefer to buy locally, and the DSM is unlikely to change these. When it comes to digital goods, the DSM does not go far enough towards licensing content across wider regions in a non-discriminatory way. The DSM does not automatically mean that viewers can stream BBC iPlayer across Europe; under the proposed system consumers will still struggle to get what they want.

The DSM also has a long way to go on the question of VAT: who collects it, who pays it and who reports it. This is of serious national importance as more and more commerce goes online. The complexities of corporate income tax also need to be addressed. If continental businesses develop an online shopping experience which convinces UK consumers to buy from non-UK companies, for example, which country should receive the resultant tax?

These root issues of licensing, VAT and taxation need to be dealt with before the DSM is rolled out. Only then can there be a truly cohesive single digital market able to function satisfactorily for all, free from nationalist pressures.