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Interview with Andrus Ansip

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An Interview with Andrus Ansip

Vice-President of the European Commission for the Digital Single Market (2014-2019)

Which visible contribution can the Digital Single Market (DSM) make to the lives of Europeans and to the Single Market in general? What could be most important for young people in particular?

There is a long list of positive effects. Our plans for a Digital Single Market aim to provide high-speed broadband everywhere in Europe, and for everyone. Put that together with the end of roaming charges and I would say that this is a very tangible benefit. The DSM will also boost e-commerce by getting rid of unjustified location-based restrictions that block your access to websites in other EU countries. It will help fledgling startups to get off the ground and expand, and make it easier to use public e-services. These are just a few examples. Young people on the move outside their own country should welcome being able to access online material for which they have paid, and seeing the end of patchy cross-border mobile phone
connections – as well as much faster speeds for download and streaming as 5G gradually becomes more available.

To what extent do you think that social policy initiatives, such as the planned Pillar of Social Rights, are necessary to distribute the economic gains from the DSM?

DSM is important in securing Europe’s competitiveness, social cohesion and prosperity in the ongoing global transformation towards a digital economy and society. It also poses new challenges for labour markets and employment. The Union, Member States and social partners have an important responsibility in managing the digital transformation successfully and supporting people’s capacity to adapt, notably through pro-active labour market and other policies. It is crucial for Member States to invest in digital skills development and retraining and modernise their education systems.

Besides the economic gains, do you think that DSM initiatives, such as the end to geo-blocking, will contribute to European citizens being connected to each other?

Europeans are mostly connected to each other already but certainly not everyone and everywhere. Telecommunications are the backbone of the
DSM strategy – and so building high-speed telecoms infrastructure and networks is one of its priorities, as is filling in communications blackspots in remote and rural areas. But this is not only about connecting people; it is also about avoiding a growing digital gap between regions and between individuals.
Getting rid of longstanding technical and administrative barriers –as with our geo-blocking proposal– will boost e-commerce and also cross-border connections.

Recently, we have heard about hacker attacks on several governments, in your view, does the DSM create more risks in the field of cybersecurity?

I would say that the opposite is true. The DSM aims to connect people, to stimulate the growth and expansion of a digital economy and society so that all can benefit. But at the same time, it recognises that cybersecurity is a very real and evolving field that must be continuously addressed: one where everyone – and not only in Europe– has to work together to minimise what is a growing global threat.
Both these considerations go hand-in-hand – so cybersecurity is a top political priority. It could not be otherwise, and I say that with first-hand experience from Estonia. Cyber threats now evolve as quickly as technology does. Attacks can come from almost anywhere: a hacker for political goals, or from one with financial motives. A threat made through ransomware, a hybrid threat or even nation-state cyber-espionage. Or it might have no obvious objective other than to ‘disrupt’ for the sake of it. The definitions are not as clear as before.
We also know that for the DSM to function properly, our digital networks have to be protected. Throughout 2017, we will be working to strengthen the EU’s overall capacity, cooperation and resilience in dealing with cyber-attacks.

Do you think promoting the DSM will benefit from the upcoming Estonian Presidency in the EU, as Estonia is one of the frontrunners of e-solutions?

I think Estonia’s experience in developing public e-services and its development of a truly digitised society can only help our work in building a DSM for Europe.
That is not to say that Estonia has all the answers – far from it. But it does have experience, perhaps more than other countries, with what works well in the digital sphere, how people and companies can get the most benefit from digital opportunities.
So I would hope that the upcoming Estonian EU Presidency will assist us in this regard, particularly since we have limited time in this European Commission to get all our DSM proposals and initiatives through the complex process of EU decision-making.

Interview carried out on February 21st, 2017 by MEU Tallinn’s team.

Read more about Andrus Ansip on the European Commission’s website.
Read more about the Digital Single Market here.

Picture credit: European Parliament.