Europe’s Digital Reactionaries

BRUSSELS – Many European politicians praise the Internet. Unfortunately, their lofty rhetoric often rings hollow. While calling for a strong digital agenda in one breath, the same politicians, supported by protectionist interests at home, often argue for putting a brake on the Internet’s “disruption” by imposing strict new regulation.

Such double-talk is misguided. If Europe is to prosper in the twenty-first century, its newly elected leaders need to embrace a positive, concrete pro-Internet agenda. That means signing digital free-trade agreements and creating a true European digital single market out of today’s fragmented 28 national jurisdictions. Long-outdated copyright and licensing laws must be overhauled. New privacy rules must protect citizens and allow innovation; calls for mandatory data localization and local versions of the “Internet” must be resisted.

If carried out, this substantive digital agenda could provide what Europe needs most after the financial crisis: economic growth. According to the OECD, the Internet now accounts for up to 13% of economic output in the US. Every type of business now depends on the digital economy. With a few keystrokes, small companies selling Polish antiques, traditional Bavarian costumes, and Spanish shoes have burst out of their home markets and reached consumers around the globe.

By unleashing the Internet, financially strapped Europe can create new jobs without taking on new debt. European Commission figures suggest that Europe’s so-called “app-economy” workforce will rise to 4.8 million by 2018, from 1.8 million in 2013, with revenues more than tripling, to €63 billion ($86 billion). We also know that some 90% of jobs by 2020 will require workers to have skills in information and communication technologies.