Herman van Rompuy: Vouching for “Digital Single Market"

The EU Council meeting of European government leaders in October last year was marked by the current greatest challenge of designing the European Union as a single economic, innovation and living environment. Particular emphasis was put on the realisation of Europe as a “digital marketplace” and the unrestricted opening of the continent for the bundling and integration of interdisciplinary top-level research. With such political ambitions, Europe wants to gear all social core areas such as health, energy, environment, security, traffic, mobility and education towards growth and hence towards guaranteeing pan-European welfare by 2020.

During the consultations with the government leaders on the digital economy and innovation, the permanent president of the EU Council, Herman van Rompuy, issued a kind of public guarantee on the focus areas of the Union to overcome fragmented markets for future technologies, to upgrade and refresh old infrastructures and to remedy the lack of IT specialists.

With his powerful statement for the Europe of tomorrow, the President of the EU Council, responsible for the further integration and bringing together of Europe, broke down the principles of the “Digital Agenda” and “Horizon 2020” initiatives into precise core messages that are suited to increase business and consumer trust in the shaping power of the Union: “Connect, make it easy, push skills”!

By 2015, a consumer- and business-friendly digital single market should be established in the European Union, specific steps taken to improve digital competencies and the intellectual and scientific potential of the Union optimally used in order to bridge the commercialisation gap, above all through systematic innovation. The latter aim should be achieved initially with the “Innovation Europe” program, as well as through the creation of a common European research area. These approaches integrate seamlessly into the “Horizon 2020” initiative.

Breaking down digital borders

Van Rompuy wants an actually “connected continent” and sees the dismantling of the current digital borders as the primary task of the future policy of the European Union. Especially relevant fields are mobile communication and the elimination of roaming charges in a common digital marketplace or the overcoming of national area protection interests in online shopping. The necessary reforms of the current legal frameworks (i.e. e-identity, electronic invoicing, European copyright) should go hand in hand with the increased development of pan-European infrastructures if Europe is really serious about the digital domestic market and making up economic ground on the US and South East Asia. Comprehensive, high-speed broadband, continent-wide 4G mobile phone networks and compatible, European cloud computing developments are important infrastructural requirements for a real breakthrough to a digital single market.

With its “Connecting Europe” plan in 2011, the European Union envisaged a financing option (facility) of 50 billion euros to develop the digital, transport and energy networks of Europe as indispensable utilities of a mobile, environment-oriented future society built on knowledge networking.

Secure internet usage

A central idea lies at the heart of Van Rompuy’s vision of a digital Europe. European citizens and the economy should be able to get things done online as easily as possible.

In a united Europe with the four fundamental principles of freedom “free movement of persons, goods, services and capital”, as well as in a Europe without border controls within Schengen, simple e-commerce across borders, i.e. the buying and selling of goods, products and services online should be just as easily possible as in the respective home countries. Moreover, it should not be more difficult to carry out online interactions with authorities, as for example online banking or social platforms, whether on a national or international level. If the inherent potential of Europe’s e-government was exploited in full, administrative savings up to 20 percent would be realistic!

The intensity of the economy and citizens’ internet usage hinges on the trust in their online provider and the level of control over their data and “digital life”. Europe therefore needs a uniform legal framework for data protection and cloud computing. This is the only way to bridge the current gap in the market for high privacy standard platforms. The fulfilment of this basic human right is an important building block in constructing the future European internet and in the realisation of a digital single market that could also grow to bring Europe competitive advantage in the global network-based knowledge economy.

Improved IT competencies

With the improvement of general IT qualifications and the accelerated recruiting of experienced IT personnel, Van Rompuy addresses perhaps the current most urgent measures needed to establish a digital single market. In view of today’s conditions, with a linear course of development the European economy will lack 900,000 IT specialists by 2020. The filling of this job reservoir will go a long way to define not only the competitiveness of the Union but also social inclusion, i.e. the integration of as many people as possible in the digital knowledge society. Subsequently, between 2014 and 2020 resources will be provided by the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF, ESF, EFRE) for training and education in information and communications technology. The Union’s three major initiatives – “An Agenda for New Skills and Jobs”, “Youth on the Move” und “European Platform Against Poverty” –  support the qualification strategy in the IT field.

In order to give further emphasis on this elementary positioning of the European industry policy José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, initiated the “Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs” in March last year at the “e-Skills and Education for Digital Jobs” conference in Brussels. The priority of this initiative is to improve the attractiveness and the image of ICT careers. This includes the development of educational programmes together with the ICT industry, the reward of curricula and university degrees in IT studies, the increased implementation of a European certification scheme for IT qualifications based on the current “e-competence framework” and the stimulation of digital entrepreneurship through a connection with “Start-up Europe”, the common platform for the founding and further development of web start-ups in Europe.

If we want to narrow the gap between the industrial demand for IT specialists and the supply of graduate IT workforces in the future, we must place a stronger emphasis on the issue at the very early educational stages, to arouse interest and curiosity in natural sciences and to raise enthusiasm in technology, especially also for young girls’.

Herman Van Rompuy embodies the vision for Europe

As a European IT company, Fabasoft welcomes the fact that the President of the EU Council personally vouches for the development of a European digital single market. His “Connect, make it easy, push skills” formula is also, in our opinion, the program Europe has to pursue.

Herman van Rompuy gives the European Council character and, thanks to his integration strengths, he enjoys high international standing. We can only be thankful to this long underestimated impulse-giver of the European Union for his precise assessment of the political priorities in order to achieve a great European vision.

But the Belgian Van Rompuy is not only an empathic consensus-builder and idea-giver in relation to our industry. His future-oriented work to overcome the economic crisis, his foresight as a strategy planner and his determination to defend central European values made him the “Staple for the European member states”, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (daily German broadsheet newspaper) wrote. In his “Europe after the wall” speech in Berlin, Van Rompuy talked about Europe not only as a market-oriented space, but also as a place that should be home for every European citizen. At the same time, he warned against populism and nationalism that, in his view, could never be an answer to the challenges we face today. “The increasing distrust in Europe can be met only with concrete political results. Growth must start again, new jobs should be created” Van Rompuy said to Spiegel (weekly German news publication). “Europe needs mobility and free movement, there is a sign of civilisation in immigration.”

At the beginning of December 2013 the directorship of the committee for the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen, honouring personalities having provided outstanding services to European unification since 1950, announced that Herman Van Rompuy, the first permanent president of the European Council, would receive the 2014 prize. Amongst other things, the committee honoured the fact that “Van Rompuy embodies the fact that Europe must have a vision and must be newly developed every day”.

Van Rompuy’s response to the award was fittingly modest: “I feel honoured, humbled and deeply moved to have been awarded this prestigious prize. The significance of this award goes far beyond me as a person, but is a compliment to the courageous efforts made by European leaders to overcome the crisis. I consider this as recognition of the determination of all the members of the European Council to remain committed to our European ideals, even in times when these are challenged.”

Van Rompuy never neglects the human dimension in his economic thinking. He owes this fact to his academic degrees in philosophy and business economics at the Catholic University of Leuven. Our industry could also learn from him in this respect. On the one hand, we need an efficient commercialisation of innovation, as well as European IT infrastructures and standards. But we need the social dimension as well. This is how we, with our European data solutions, can really feel at home in our Europe!