Newspaper article International New York Times

Going Online to Save Europe

Newspaper article International New York Times

Going Online to Save Europe

Article excerpt

A bold plan to link the Continent through a digital single market could do much to revive the eurozone.

Wherever you look in Europe, the 60-year project to unite the Continent is starting to show its age.

Almost a decade of financial crises -- including multibillion- dollar bailouts for Greece and Cyprus, often accompanied by onerous repayment terms -- have eroded people's trust in many of the institutions that underpin the European Union. And the mass influx of migrants has tested the core tenets of the 28-member bloc, including the freedom to travel unhindered between countries.

Despite such challenges, Europe's policy makers -- not typically known for risk taking -- are forging ahead with a new plan to align the Continent's disparate, and often contradictory, digital interests. The outcome, though, is far from assured.

The goal is to create a so-called digital single market across a region with more than 60 languages and a population of more than 500 million. Such a market, officials say, would offer unfettered access to services like movie streaming, online shopping and cloud computing no matter where one lived.

The plan is the brainchild of the European Commission, the Brussels-based executive arm of the European Union. The digital single market involves a raft of new policies that would come into force -- if everything goes according to plan -- by the end of the decade. The proposal has been championed by many political leaders, including Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.

By allowing anyone from Ireland to Bulgaria to tap into the same digital marketplace, policy makers argue, Europeans could access a more diverse -- and often cheaper -- set of online services, from discounted online shopping to video-on-demand programming. Right now, for instance, someone in Spain cannot legally view (or buy) digital movies or sports events that are streamed online by companies based in other European countries.

The hope is that a unified digital marketplace would help improve Europe's moribund economy by creating new businesses and tens of thousands of engineering and other technology-related jobs, according to European Union estimates. And it would help local start- ups harness the combined wealth of one of the world's largest economies.

Already, technology communities have sprouted up in London and Berlin. And while Europe is a long way from competing with Silicon Valley as an incubator for innovation, several European companies, including the German e-commerce giant Zalando, are already worth billions of dollars.

For a new generation of politicians here, the goal -- despite the absence of bonhomie among many countries -- is nothing short of a digital United States of Europe. "There are going to be no easy victories," said Andrus Ansip, a former Estonian prime minister who is leading the European Commission's digital campaign. …

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