Digital Single Market is a True Test of Europe’s Open Society

Digital Single Market is a True Test of Europe’s Open Society

Posted by John Jolliffe, Adobe European Government Affairs

As the European Commission reflects on the progress made under its Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy, many companies are themselves reflecting on what exactly the DSM is.

It isn’t merely one of the 10 priority policies of the European Commission, part of Jean-Claude Juncker’s 2014 blueprint to drive growth and jobs in a post-financial crisis economy.  It is a term that, through its overuse and its bewildering inconsistency, has become synonymous with an era of highly interventionist policymaking in Brussels. One which has laid bare the tremendous challenges that face legislators when they attempt to simultaneously harness the benefits of technology while applying a precautionary approach that seeks to minimize risks to society.

At the core of the DSM is a deep, and unresolved, unease among EU policymakers about the use and flow of data. It’s this dichotomy that means the EU can simultaneously develop policies on Industry 4.0 while subjecting Internet of Things (IOT) and machine-to-machine communications to ever stricter controls under the proposed new e-Privacy Regulation. It can also lead the EU to explore how data should be taken into account in merger reviews while simultaneously suggesting that browsers could be a good way of capturing user consent to processing their device data (again under the proposed e-privacy regulation). Finally, international data transfer mechanisms can be subject to extreme review even as member states continue to explore their own intrusions into user privacy.

In the end, though, these issues are not unique to the EU at all, or to the DSM strategy. Such is the pace of digitization that it is unlikely that any real societal consensus on the issues raised by the DSM or similar programmes around the world will emerge any time soon. We are, collectively, in the midst of the storm and it is difficult for anyone, not just the EU, to get the necessary perspective. You only have to glance at the discussions within the European Parliament on any one of the DSM initiatives to get a sense for just how polarized opinions are on matters relating to technology. Techno-utopianists will always debate with data-reactionaries. This confrontation is necessary and healthy. And mistakes will be made.

What is important, then, is not who is right or who is wrong, whether the EU is protectionist or not, or whether it is too cautious or too ambitious. What matters is that we continue to create the space for discussion, that we seek to listen to each other and avoid polarised positions and easy characterisations of the positions of other stakeholders. The rise of social media, the centrifugal forces of national populism, and the increasing complexity of technology all have helped to make honest dialogue more and more difficult. We should all hope that for the sake of society the EU can continue to be a space for dialogue and debate, for the DSM and beyond.

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