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France, Germany push for common digital Europe without fragmentation

A joint campaign to jumpstart Europe's fragmented digital sector has been launched in Paris by French and German leaders. Their plan includes a 500 million euro fund for start-up firms and innovations.

Tuesday's German-French declaration urged the European Commission to create a single legal framework so European industry can digitalize its production alongside US competitors whose domestic market already has many standardized rules.

Heading the Paris consultations were the French and German economy ministers, Emmanuel Macron and Sigmar Gabriel, in the presence of President Francois Hollande, Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU President Jean-Claude Juncker, a key advocate of a common digitalized EU.

Their plan includes tax breaks and grants for start-up firms, cloud computing and big data services, and programs to boost digital skills among students.

"To put it less than bluntly, we haven't been one nose ahead in terms of the development of the Internet and consumer applications," said Merkel, herself a trained physicist, referring to strong market leads held by concerns in Asia and America.

Europe risked being "left behind" if EU nations failed to cooperate on aspects such as broadband networks, training, data protection and start-ups, Merkel warned.

Frankreich Emmanuel Macron, Sigmar Gabriel, Angela Merkel und Francois Hollande in Paris

Macron (L) and Gabriel (2 f. L) see the digital drive as vital

'Digital Airbus'

Gabriel cited Europe's past aviation initiatives as models for what he called a "digital Airbus" needed to make sure Europe remained competitive.

Hollande said Germany and France as long-established industrial locations should lead the way in making Europe a digital "trendsetter" worldwide.

"Europe is [currently] the missing pin in the world's digital haystack," said German ministerial advisor Tobias Kollmann, referring to differing rules on electronics across the EU's 28 member nations.

Roaming law 'first step'

Juncker said Tuesday's law passed by the European Parliament to

phase out mobile phone roaming charges

by mid-2017 was a "first step" to remove barriers to digital commerce across the bloc.

Germany's electronic federation Bitkom welcomed the Paris declaration.

"Germany and France must act as the motor of change," said Joachim Bühler, who is Bitkom's spokesman on economic and political developments.

ipj/bw (dpa, AFP)

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