Last week I heard Germany described by an EU official as ‘the only first class passenger on the Titantic’. As the crisis rolls on Brussels is awash with such harbingers of doom. It is hardly surprising then that stories about growth are few and far between.
So, in case you missed it, step forward the European Commission’s 2012 Annual Growth Survey. The AGS is an excellent report evaluating the economic situation and the main challenges to be addressed by the European Union and Member States with an interesting focus on the digital economy.
Introducing the report, Commission President José Manuel Barrosso, was clear that in order for Europe to avoid stagnation and other far worse scenarios, Europe needs to “frontload structural reforms now” because fiscal consolidation and financial repair are not sufficient in themselves to deliver growth.
To translate from Commission-speak, officials are pinning their hopes on the ability of the European Union and Member States to push on with reforms which improve the business environment and competitiveness of key sectors, such as the low carbon economy, health and social sectors and the digital economy.
So what does this mean for the digital economy?
The basic recipe for building a strong EU digital single market, thereby allowing firms to grow, enjoy economies of scale and create jobs, goes something like this; develop an EU market for secure mobile and on-line payments; make more radio spectrum available; get the cloud computing strategy right; promote high speed broadband; make it easier and safer for people to buy online across Europe; and use ICT to deliver smart energy and transport systems.
Many of these reforms are already underway. For instance, the Commission will publish a Green Paper on the payments market in December and a cloud computing strategy next year.
However, over and above campaigns around broadband access or online payments, 2012 offers firms working in the technology and telecommunications industries a rare opportunity to position themselves at the forefront of efforts to ensure that the next generation of Europeans will have challenging and creative jobs.
To me, it is clear that those working in the technology and telecommunications have three distinct opportunities. They should:
- Develop a strong ‘growth narrative’ for the digital economy; in particular, they must refine the arguments around ICT as an ‘enabler industry’
- Make the case at the Member State level for what technology and telecommunication firms need in order to improve the business environment both in the EU and internationally and thereby contribute to growth – campaigns in Brussels need to be backed up across Europe
- Bring the ‘digital single market’ to life for citizens, politicians and officials alike –what does getting standardisation, privacy and next generation access and cloud policy right today mean for tomorrow?
This week, Neelie Kroes, the lead Commissioner for the digital economy, stated that “increasing broadband penetration by 10 percentage points could increase growth by 0.9% to 1.5%”. The hopes for the digital economy are high and, as firms and governments know only too well, the stakes are even higher.