Developing the Digital Single Market is one of the highest priorities of the current European Commission, and it offers substantial advantages for the people, communities and businesses of Scotland, just as it does for people across the EU. This case study sets out the development of this initiative, and how the Scottish Government has engaged to protect Scotland’s interests and realise the advantages the initiative can offer.
The European single market is one of the most tangible and significant benefits of our EU membership. It allows unrestricted access to goods and services from every member state to citizens and businesses from each. It increases the range and depth of choice available to consumers and gives businesses open access to a marketplace of 500 million people. However, while digital technologies have had rapid and transformative effects on many aspects of the ways in which we live and work, the EU’s regulations for the digital environment have not always kept pace with technological developments. Barriers that no longer exist in the EU’s single market for physical goods and services have persisted in some areas when it comes to goods and services provided digitally. This has an impact on the ability of innovative European companies to grow and eventually compete internationally.
The European Commission estimates that a European digital single market has the potential to add up to €415 billion to European economic output. For individual Scots it will increase choice and facilitate access to a wider range of services. For cutting edge Scottish businesses it will create new opportunities to grow and to reach new markets.
The EU’s Digital Single Market Strategy
In May 2015 the Commission published its strategy for creating the Digital Single Market. It outlined sixteen distinct areas of work that would be taken forward in the months and years ahead in order to create the conditions required for EU citizens and companies to fully take advantage of the opportunities provided by advances in digital technology. This strategy was first presented to the EU’s Member States at the EU Culture and Audiovisual Council on 19 May 2015, at which our Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, represented the UK.
The Digital Single Market Strategy covers a comprehensive range of issues under three distinct headings:
- Better Access for consumers and businesses to online goods and services across Europe.
Measures in this area will include reform of VAT regulations, steps to enhance consumer protection and reforms to the EU’s copyright regime.
- Creating the right conditions for digital networks and services to flourish.
This will include reform of telecommunications rules, a review of cross-border broadcasting regulations and proposals to enhance online security.
- Maximising the growth potential of the European digital economy.
Measures will include steps to facilitate the free flow of data at EU level and an e-Government Action Plan to modernise public administration and facilitate access to public services for EU citizens.
Representing Scottish interests
There are a number of channels that the Scottish Government can use to influence the Digital Single Market proposals as they develop, both at ministerial and official level.
As mentioned above, Fiona Hyslop represented the UK at the EU Culture and Audiovisual Council at which the Digital Single Market Strategy was first presented. At this Council she contributed to a debate on EU broadcasting regulation and was able to highlight opportunities and challenges that the Digital Single Market Strategy presented. The Cabinet Secretary again led for the UK at the EU Culture and Audiovisual Council in November 2015 and will continue to take up such opportunities to represent Scottish interests as the Digital Single Market proposals develop.
The Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe (JMCE) is a forum that allows Ministers from the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations to feed into UK positions on EU issues. It is held quarterly in advance of meetings of the European Council – which involves all EU Heads of Government – and tends to focus on subjects that will be addressed at those meetings. The Digital Single Market Strategy is a subject that has been discussed at JMCE and is likely to be so again as the proposals develop. As this is an important forum for our Ministers to influence UK Government policy on EU issues, engaging through JMCE on the Digital Single Market proposals will help to shape the positions that the UK Government takes into negotiations with other EU Member States.
As the detail of the Digital Single Market proposals is developed, the Scottish Government understands the importance of ensuring that they draw as strongly as possible on the real-world experience of the businesses and individuals that they will most affect. To that end we will provide opportunities for stakeholders to engage in the processes that will inform the final shape of the Digital Single Market proposals. We will promote opportunities such as the European Commission’s consultation exercises and will work with the UK Government to ensure that their consultation processes are accessible to Scottish organisations.