European Scrutiny Committee Contents

28 A Digital Agenda for Europe



COM(10) 245

Commission Communication: A Digital Agenda for Europe

Legal base
Document originated19 May 2010
Deposited in Parliament25 May 2010
DepartmentBusiness, Innovation and Skills
Basis of considerationEM of 22 June 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see (31645)10245/10 , chapter XX of this Report
To be discussed in Council31 May 2010 Telecoms Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


28.1 On the relevant part of its website, the Commission notes that telecoms are more than ever central to our lives and work and that, in economic terms, the telecoms sector is one of Europe's most important, with annual turnover of around €290 billion, and around 4% of the jobs in the Union. It also notes that, more widely, the prices charged by the telecoms sector represent a direct cost of doing business in Europe. It sees the liberalisation launched in the mid 1980s as having brought significant benefits for consumers. But "there is still work to be done to create an effective internal market in telecoms, which would bring even greater benefits to consumers and businesses alike". Only a few operators provide pan-European services. One of the reasons is the different ways in which national regulators have implemented the EU framework. The internal market is fragmented, with the result that operators have to package their services in different ways in different Member States, and satisfy different regulatory requirements each time. That fragmentation is hindering effective cross-border consolidation, and often blocking or delaying the entry of new competitors to the market.[113]

The Commission Communication

28.2 Against this background, the Commission Communication sets out the Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe (which will replace the earlier i2010 Strategy). It is the first of seven flagship initiatives under the "Europe 2020" strategy.[114] The "Europe 2020" strategy, which was launched by the Commission in March 2010, is a ten year strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, designed to prepare the EU for the challenges that it will face over the next 10 years. It was endorsed by the 25-26 March 2010 European Council.

28.3 In unveiling its Digital Agenda for Europe[115] on 19 May 2010, the Commission said that implementing its ambitious agenda would contribute significantly to the EU's economic growth and spread the benefits of the digital era to all sections of society. The Commission notes that half of European productivity growth over the past 15 years was already driven by information and communications technologies and this trend is likely to accelerate. At that time, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said:

"We must put the interests of Europe's citizens and businesses at the forefront of the digital revolution and so maximise the potential of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to advance job creation, sustainability and social inclusion. The ambitious strategy set out today shows clearly where we need to focus our efforts in the years to come. To fully realise the potential of Europe's digital future we need the full commitment of Member States, the ICT sector and other vital economic players."

28.4 The Digital Agenda focuses on seven priority areas, and foresees some 100 follow-up actions, of which 31 would be legislative. The seven areas are:

—  creating a digital Single Market;

—  greater inter-operability;

—  boosting internet trust and security;

—  much faster internet access;

—  more investment in research and development;

—  enhancing digital literacy skills and inclusion; and

—  applying information and communications technologies to address challenges facing society like climate change and the ageing population.

28.5 At her press conference to introduce the Communication, the Commissioner said that progress towards achieving the Communication's objectives would be measured against a number of specific targets, for example:

  • by 2013, broadband coverage for all EU citizens and, by 2020, fast broadband coverage at 30 Megabits per second for all EU citizens, with at least half European households subscribing to broadband access at 100 Megabits per second;
  • by 2015, 50 per cent of the EU population should be shopping online, with 20 per cent of the population using cross-border online services;
  • by 2015, regular internet use increased from 60 per cent to 75 per cent, and in the case of disadvantaged people from 41per cent to 60 per cent;
  • by 2015, halve the proportion of people who have never used the internet (from 30 per cent to 15 per cent);
  • by 2015, 50 per cent of EU citizens should be using online public services, with more than half of them returning filled in forms via the internet; and
  • by 2020, doubling EU Member States' total annual public spending on ICT Research and Development to €11 billion.

28.6 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 22 June 2010, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Department for Business, Innovation and Skills/Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Ed Vaizey) summarises each of them as follows:


"The EDA suggests that though the Internet is 'borderless', a true European single online digital market is still some way off. As a result, this is stifling Europe's competitiveness in the digital economy: as evidenced by the fact that many of the most successful internet businesses such as Amazon, Google and eBay originate outside of Europe. The Commission propose that various actions should be taken to address this, in order that European businesses can provide online services to all European citizens, wherever they are in Europe. Actions include Commission proposals to:

  • make it easier to access online content by simplifying copyright clearance and cross border licensing, by 2010;
  • make online and cross-border transactions more straightforward, by 2010;
  • introduce a directive on orphan works by 2010 (orphan works are a piece of copyrighted work where it is difficult or impossible to contact the copyright holder);
  • initiate measures that will increase the confidence of consumers and businesses to carry out online transactions, including clarifying existing online rights and boosting the role of online trustmarks for retail websites, by 2012. (Trustmarks are seals, logos or icons that are displayed on a Web site that provide information about what steps an online merchant is taking to protect its customers);
  • evaluate the impact of the eCommerce Directive on online markets by the end of 2010;
  • measures to increase the harmonisation of numbering resources for provision of business services across Europe, by 2011;
  • reduce mobile roaming and national tariffs to zero, by 2015; and
  • ensure that an EU single market for telecommunications services is expedited, including swift implementation of the amended Electronic Communications framework by May 2011."


"The aim of this priority is to ensure that ICT products and services are as far as possible interoperable with each other. Actions include:-

  • The Commission proposing legal measures to reform the rules on implementation of ICT standards in Europe by 2010;
  • The Commission promoting interoperability by adopting a European Interoperability Strategy and framework in 2010; and
  • Member States implementing the commitments on interoperability and standards, as set out in the Malmo and Granada Declarations, by 2013."


"The aim of this priority is for a series of actions to foster trust and confidence amongst online users; in particular, the threats to both IT networks and individual users from cyber crime and cyber attacks, the right to privacy and the protection of personal online data. This section also considers the protection of critical information infrastructure from cybercrime and cyber-attacks such as the recent attack on Estonian networks. Actions include Commission proposals:

  • for a series of measures that will reinforce a high level network and information security policy. These include legislative measures that modernise the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), by 2010;
  • a Directive on attacks on information systems, in 2010; and
  • for the creation and support of reporting points for illegal content online, (eg hotlines) as typified by the existing EU Commissions EU Safer Internet Programme and also enhance cooperation between these hotlines by 2013."


"Broadband was a key theme in the 'Europe 2020' strategy. The EDA's overall priority is to increase both the rollout of fast broadband, of up to 30mbps to all EU citizens and over time, to rollout super fast broadband (above 100Mbps) to 50% of the EU population. It is intended that this will allow EU economies to create jobs and ensure that citizens can access the content and services when they wish. The EDA also calls for an ambitious EU radio spectrum policy that will enable the rollout of mobile broadband especially in rural areas. Actions include:

  • The Commission adopting a Broadband Communication in 2010 that will include proposals to fund the rollout of high speed broadband networks using EU funding mechanisms such as European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and to consider how to attract capital for broadband backed by European Investment Bank and other EU Funds by 2014;
  • Ensuring that this Broadband Communication will also include a European Spectrum Policy Programme, that will propose a more joined up spectrum policy at EU Level; and
  • Member States should develop national broadband plans by 2010, implement any European Spectrum Policy Programme and utilise EU Structural and Rural Development Funds for ICT investment."


"The objective of this priority is to increase European investment in ICT Research and Development (R&D), and to ensure that the best ideas reach the market. The document states Europe is currently under-investing in ICT R&D, when compared to its major trading partners such as the US. To try to ensure that this gap is closed, the Commission in 2010 will also present a separate research and innovation strategy which will be one of the seven flagship initiatives under Europe 2020 strategy. Proposals include:-

  • increased use of private investment;
  • better coordination and pooling of resources between Member States;
  • ideas for "light and fast" access to EU Research funds, especially by SME's by 2011; and
  • a doubling of public spending on ICT R&D by Member States, by 2010."


"This priority considers how all of society should benefit from the potential advantages that ICT can bring. It also indicates that there should be no barriers to gaining access to these critical online services. The Commission also notes that many daily tasks are now carried out online including applying for a job, paying taxes or booking travel. However the Commission also notes that 150 million European citizens, or 30%, have never used the Internet.

"This section also indicates that without a skilled ICT workforce, ICT cannot be one of the 'engines' of European growth, as well as a skills gap affecting at least 700,000 people.

"Actions to address this situation include:

  • the Commission to develop tools to identify and recognise the competencies of ICT workers and users, linked to the European Qualifications Framework;
  • a Commission proposal that Digital Literacy is a priority for the European Social Fund Regulation for the period 2014-2020 and the Commission to make digital literacy a priority for the 'New Skills for new jobs' (another of the seven flagship 'EU 2020' strategies) by 2010;
  • promoting the participation of young women in the ICT workforce;
  • developing an online education tool on new media technologies (in areas such as such as eCommerce, data protection and social networks) by 2011; and
  • Member States implementing the provisions on disability in the telecoms framework and the Audio Visual Media Services Directive, by 2011."


"This priority covers several policy areas, including:-

  • ICT and the environment;
  • ensuring that eHealth fulfils its potential to improve citizens' quality of life;
  • the promotion of online cultural diversity and European-produced online content;
  • eGovernment services; and
  • Intelligent Transport Systems."

28.7 Annex 1 of the Communication consists of a table of the legislative actions and proposals — 31 in all —that the Commission believes will be necessary to achieve the overall aims of the EDA.

28.8 On the question of Subsidiarity, the Minister says that "this Agenda is a mixture of Commission and Member State actions".

28.9 The Minister concludes his analysis by noting that:

—  some of the policies covered in the document are devolved matters under the UK's devolution settlements and the devolved administrations have been consulted in the preparation of this Explanatory Memorandum;

—  the Scottish Government have specifically expressed an interest in this EM and have requested to be kept up to date on this Agenda as it progresses; and

—  the Scottish Government have also indicated their interest in two specific areas, "the first in regard to the development and making of any operational national broadband plans by 2012 and any measures that the UK Government may propose; and the second is to facilitate broadband investment."

The Government's view

28.10 The Minister welcomes "this comprehensive Communication and the forward looking strategy it outlines", professes himself to be "particularly pleased about its focus on how to derive economic benefit from the use of ICT", which was "something we pressed the Commission on during its formation" and agrees that the priority for the new EDA should be "a focus on initiatives that derive maximum leverage from ICT for economic growth and productivity."

28.11 He also supports actions that seek to resolve both access to, and increased take-up of the internet by EU citizens and businesses, but says:

"We do, though, have concerns that there are a large number of actions, which could cause a lack of focus and dissipate effort. We believe that the Commission should have applied a more rigorous regime of prioritisation, which would have ended up with a more simpler [sic], easier to achieve set of actions."

28.12 The Minister also says that to ensure effective implementation of this agenda, he suggested at the recent Telecommunications Council that the Commission, in conjunction with Member States, should set out a route map for major items for example, and also regularly report to Council on progress.

28.13 The Minister then says that "it is worth noting that HMG is not in a position at this stage to comment on all the proposals outlined in this Communication; this reflecting work still being taken forward on policy development but also the lack of details in some of the proposals from the Commission."

28.14 The Minister goes on to comment on major aspects of the Communication as follows:


"HMG notes the Commission's commitment to reform the governance of collecting societies, and to initiate a new look at cross-border licensing. We agree that it is important to consider carefully the potential for greater transparency and competition between collecting societies to benefit Europe's economy. We also agree that there should be a full exploration of the extent to which facilitating cross-border licensing would make it easier for businesses to offer legal download services.

"HMG welcomes the commitment to orphan works legislation, and to consider issues relating to out-of-print works, which could help facilitate the digitisation and access to cultural materials throughout Europe.

"HMG also welcomes the commitment to evaluate but not revise the e-commerce directive this year.

"HMG agrees with the need to make online and cross-border shopping more straightforward, with the aim of providing consumers with access to greater choice and better prices, as well as to make it easier and less costly for business to sell to consumers in other Member States. We support exploring many of the issues set out in the Commission's document but will need to consider the details of any proposals before being able to analyse the policy implications for the UK.

"HMG welcomes the commitment to strengthening Europeana, the European digital library project. The European Digital Libraries project provides a single point of access to material from numerous national digital collections.

"There is no mention of the INSPIRE directive (on the provision of geo-spatial information on public sector infrastructures) which we have indicated would have expected to have been referred to in this section. Under the UK, we have now implemented this Directive and would therefore hope that any further initiatives under the Digital Agenda are fully cognisant of the MS obligations under INSPIRE, and do not overlap and / or conflict with it.

"HMG welcomes harmonisation of telephone numbering wherever possible. However we note that there have been previous discussions and initiatives around a single Europe-wide numbering scheme that have had minimal market take-up. We do not believe that such schemes are needed at present, and that any needs in this area can be met by existing international schemes."


"HMG agrees that we need open and interoperable standards, but are mindful that they are largely created on a voluntary basis in a commercial marketplace. We note that open standards includes the availability of reasonable remuneration for intellectual property and that interoperability is best driven by the existence of transparent mechanisms, processes and organisations that allow market parties to work together. It is only in rare instances, such as for specific societal needs that we have historically mandated interoperability features on products and services. The UK suggests that this approach is continued in future.

"The licensing and costing of intellectual property and interoperability information in the standards process is an emotive issue, and we welcome the Commission's wish to provide further clarification. We suggest that any guidance should be just that, and that the Commission should be sensitive to the needs of all parties.

"We welcome the inclusion of the recognition of specific products from fora and consortia. These should be recognised as necessary to enable access to standards not produced by formal European and national standards bodies. We are mindful of the concerns expressed by formal bodies and see a need to use this necessary provision sensitively."


"HMG welcomes the recognition in the Digital Agenda of the need to develop trust in online services, as well as the need for Member States to have adequate legislation in place to combat cyber attacks. We welcome the focus on increasing the EU's ability to improve the resilience of networks and the ability of the Member States to work collaboratively to deal with attacks with cross-border dimensions. We note the objective to extend the coverage of emergency response through Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and to continue to promote real-time networking in this community and, importantly to provide the same functionality to the European Institutions.

"Many of the European policy ideas in this area have been explored by the House of Lords Inquiry into cyber attacks arising from the Commission's 2009 Communication on Critical Information Infrastructure Protection. We remain convinced, in keeping with the views of the House of Lords Select Committee, that the EU has a role to play but we will need to see the detail of the forthcoming proposals on Network and Information Security and the future of ENISA. These proposals will be the subject of a separate Explanatory Memorandum. 

"HMG are interested by the intimation that the review of the Data Protection Directive will lead to compulsory data breach notification. Although it shows some of the Commission initial thinking, we will have to review the proposals when they emerge and submit a separate Explanatory Memorandum. The actions for Member States in this section seem reasonable and would not, on the face of it, present significant problems for the UK."

Fast Internet Access

"Broadband: The Communication contains three targets which are broadly in line with the Government's policy. These are:

  • basic broadband for all Europeans by 2013. This is clearly consistent with the UK Universal Service Commitment to provide access to a 2 MBps service for all by 2012;
  • by 2020, all Europeans to have access to speeds of greater than 30MBps. This implies some involvement of fibre in the access network (mobile and satellite are not at this point capable of speeds over 30MBps). While the new Government has not announced an explicit target for superfast broadband, this level of ambition is consistent with the Coalition Agreement and subsequent policy statements; and
  • by 2020, 50% or more of European households subscribe to internet connections above 100 MBps. This is the most ambitious of the targets. It implies a fibre to the home connection (FTTH). The average level of FTTH penetration in Europe according to the Communication is 1% (compared with 2% in the USA, 12% in Japan and 15% in South Korea). In addition to removing investment barriers to allow coverage to grow, this would require demand-side action.

"There are also specific actions for the Commission and Member States. These are also broadly in line with current policy. The Communication suggests taking measures including possible legal measures to facilitate broadband investment. The suggested measures are precisely the ones being considered by the Government; for example passive infrastructure sharing, co-ordination of civil engineering works etc. The Communication also says that Member States should use fully EU Structural and Rural Development Funds — also in line with current policy.

"UK agrees that effective and efficient use of spectrum is desirable and that technical harmonisation and co-ordination of spectrum use at EU level are useful tools to achieve this. However, any forthcoming proposals that mandates harmonisation of use needs very careful examination and should be based on rigorous analysis and evidence, taking into account the circumstances of individual Member States. The European Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) will provide an excellent vehicle to discuss the above issues. (The RSPP, outlines at a strategic level how the use of spectrum can contribute to the most important political objectives of the European Union from 2011 to 2015.)

"While we share the Commission's overall objective of improving the functioning of the Single Market by promoting lower mobile voice and data roaming charges, we are of the view that the proposal that differences between national and roaming charges should all but disappear by 2015 is an aspirational goal. We will need to consider any further proposals on the regulation of roaming charges on their merits and take into account not only consumer benefit but also the impact on the mobile network operators to ensure a sustainable and competitive market."


"HMG welcomes the proposal to make the Framework Programme 7 ICT Work Programme (FP7) more industry-oriented/industry-led. This will hopefully encourage increased use of the funds available by industry.

"In April 2010, the Commission released a communication setting out its proposals for further simplifying the Framework Programme, with options for the current programme (FP7) and more radical options for future programmes (requiring changes to the Financial Regulations). Many of the proposals, including a reduction in auditing requirements and more use of lump sum payments, could impact positively on business experience with FP, particularly with respect of SMEs.

"As to the Commission's request that Member States should double public spending on ICT R&D by 2020. The UK public-sector spend on ICT will be determined by a process of stakeholder consultation on priorities for publicly-funded ICT R&D which has not yet taken place.


"HMG suggests that with regards to the proposals to increase digital participation, there does not appear to be anything that runs counter to UK plans. However, we would not want the EU to develop 'an online education tool on new media technologies' and then mandate its use, as this could conflict with the UK's myguide or similar tools. (myguide is a government funded website that helps people take their first steps with computers and the internet).

"HMG welcomes the emphasis on the ICT skills agenda and look forward to receiving Commission proposals in this area.

"We noted that the EDA proposes that Member States implement the provisions on disability in the Audio Visual Media Services Directive by 2011 and that the Commission will ensure implementation of the AudioVisual Media Services Directive provisions concerning cultural diversity and by the end of 2011 request information from Member States on their application. This seems at odds with the deadline for transposition of all the provisions of the Directive, which was December 2009 and that the deadline for providing information is already in the Directive.


"With regard to the Smart Grid proposals, HMG notes that the Communication gives the Commission a key action of assessing by 2011 the potential contribution of smart grids to the decarbonisation of energy supply in Europe and define a set of minimum functionalities to promote the interoperability of smart grids at European level by the end of 2010. While defining a set of minimum functionalities to promote interoperability, it is important to ensure these are broad enough to account for different challenges Member States have. The European Electricity Grids Initiative has already identified a broad set of minimum functionalities for a Smart Grid which should act as a basis for any future discussions.

"The Communication further proposes that Member States agree by end-2011 common additional functionalities for smart meters. This objective is inconsistent with an existing EU process established by DG Enterprise to develop non-mandatory standards for the functionality of smart meters and the telecommunications that support them. This process is intended to be completed by 2012. It is important that any process to establish smart meter functionalities at the EU level be flexible enough to meet all Member States' differing energy and environmental policy objectives.

"Many Member States, including the UK, are already developing smart meter programmes. Member States are also required to implement the 3rd Energy Package Directives, which require installation of smart electricity meters to 80% of consumers by 2020 where there is a positive impact assessment for doing so. Whilst there are some benefits in establishing common high-level functionalities for smart meters, for the UK and for other Member States, meeting the 3rd Package timetable is likely to require decisions on meter functionality before any EU processes have run their course.

"HMG have strong doubts about the feasibility and acceptability of equipping European citizens with access to their clinical data by 2015 and would welcome more information about how the Commission intends to achieve this. We would also welcome more clarity on the aim for widespread deployment of telemedicine and its definition by 2020.

"On the proposal for a minimum set of patient data, HMG believes that this proposal for a Recommendation will be premature. A proper evaluation of the Smart Open Services for Patients pilots (epSOS) (phase 1 of which finishes in February 2012) is necessary before such a Recommendation is proposed.

"HMG in principle welcomes an approach to greater standardisation and ease of interoperability across borders but we have concerns about the practicalities of implementing the actions proposed for this draft Digital Agenda. Also between the four devolved health administrations in the UK there are differences in eHealth strategies and priorities plus financial constraints which should be acknowledged in wider policy and strategy goals.

"Therefore with EU-wide information standards, care should be taken not to impose new standards on all countries without assessing the cost and other impacts.

"The UK Government supports the EU proposals to improve child internet safety and they are consistent with the approach the UK has been following.

"We welcome the proposal for greater pan-European co-operation between hotlines."

28.15 Turning to the Financial Implications, the Minister says that, although the Communication as such does not have any financial implications, the Commission proposes to leverage more private investment by maintaining a pace of 20% yearly increase in the ICT R&D budget, for at least the duration of 7th Framework Programme, 2007-2013, and comments as follows:

"While the UK sees R&D as a driver for growth, the EU budget decisions must be seen in the context of fiscal consolidation and good financial management. Any increase in funding must be made through reprioritisation away from areas with low EU value added.

"The Commission proposes by 2020 to double annual total public spending on ICT research and development spending from €5.5bn to €11bn (£4.6bn-£9bn and including EU programmes), to leverage more private spending. Negotiations on the framework for the EU budget from 2014-2020 will begin in early 2011, and agreement is expected in 2012. The Commission cannot enter into financial commitments for this period until the negotiations have been concluded. The UK, along with other Member States, will seek to ensure that discussions on policy areas in advance of those negotiations cannot prejudice the outcome of the negotiations."

28.16 The Minister concludes by noting that:

—   Council Conclusions were adopted at the Telecoms Council on 31 May, the contents of which he says are:

"a set of 'bland endorsements' at a very high level that did not sign the UK up to any particular part of the Digital Agenda, before the negotiations on each of the proposals that form the EDA have taken place." [116]

—  The Commission will now begin to publish the various proposals according to the timetable; the first being the Broadband Recommendation, due out this month.


28.17 As the Commissioner also said at her press conference: "The digital world affects us all — there is no choice about that. But we can take the decision to use these changes to boost European growth, jobs and the well-being of our citizens. That is the decision the Commission is taking today, and we call on all those with a stake in this digital future for Europe to join us in moving forward." The extent of this challenge is plainly set out in an associated Communication, on the development thus far of EU communications markets, which we consider elsewhere in this Report, and which demonstrates just how far the EU is from a single market in this area.

28.18 In the short-term, we look forward to considering the upcoming Broadband Recommendation, and those other proposals that are put forward.

28.19 We now clear the document.

113   See "Telecoms in the European Union" at  Back

114   See for details. Back

115   See for full background. Back

116   The conclusions are available at  Back

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