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Europe

'The digital economy could be part of the solution'

At the EU summit, Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes spearheaded urgent reforms to the bloc's telecoms sector. Kroes explained the plans in an interview with DW.

EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes has proposed legislation to re-orient Internet-based companies in Europe, including the creation of a domestic European market for telecommunication and digital economy. Consumers should be able to make phone calls and surf the Internet in the EU without additional roaming charges. The plan would also encourage investment in new high-speed networks to boost growth. Currently, Kroes says, Europe is not competitive in this sector. The proposals were discussed at the EU summit in Brussels.

Deutsche Welle: How confident are you that the EU summit will accept your proposals concerning the digital economy?

Neelie Kroes: I am optimistic, but in the Netherlands we have a saying: Don't praise the day before the evening. We have a very decent, balanced proposal that is good for consumer and the business world, and good for our industry, not only the telecommunications industry but the industry as a whole.

How important is this for tackling economic problems in Europe? Will it give a boost to the economy?

Absolutely. It will not only boost the economy, it will revive a sector of the economy that is currently ailing. It is the basis for the creation of new jobs. That's what we really want. If we look at youth unemployment figures in some member countries, they are absolutely unacceptable. The digital economy could be part of the solution.

How have the businesses concerned responded? There are already some critical voices in the industry saying that your proposal goes too far, while others say it doesn't go far enough.

I would be surprised if everybody applauded it - if that were the case, it would mean I'd done something wrong. But I am absolutely certain that, overall, most of the industry, most consumers and most politicians are aware that is really necessary to do it now and not wait any longer, because we can't afford to wait too long with an ailing telecoms sector.

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Did the US eavesdrop on German Chancellor Merkel?

You've tabled a manifesto from young European entrepreneurs. What do they expect the EU summit and you, the Commissioner, to do?

These young people wrote a manifesto and it is a very, very promising paper. They list what needs to be done at the European, national and local levels. They talk about skills, about opportunities for getting venture capital, and about having the same system. If you start a business in one EU member state and it's a success, and you want to run the same business in another member state, it's unacceptable to have to start all over again from scratch with completely different rules and requirements. It's a perfectly sensible list of suggestions; there's nothing spectacular in there. We can implement these suggestions, and it would make sense to do so.

How does data protection fit into this digital equation? How concerned are you that data protection is properly taken care of?

There is no 'either/or', but an 'as well as.' We badly need security, we need trust. Data protection is a very important issue, there's no doubt about that, and it's connected to all kinds of things.

In the light of the most recent NSA scandal in France and Germany, do you use your mobile phone and e-mail accounts just as you did before?

I was already warned in the 1970s, when I was Telecommunications Minister in the Netherlands, that I should be very, very careful about using the phone to share highly confidential information. So I'm not that surprised. We need more trust, that's absolutely true. It's a serious problem, especially among friends. All I can say is, be careful when you share data. You should always bear that in mind.

Are we ready for European solutions in this sector? Are we too dependent on American companies and American technology?

That is one of the challenges for me. We shouldn't be buying the hardware from the Far East and the software from the Far West. We should have our own economic activities in this field. That's the key issue, and that's why the manifesto by these young women and men is so important. They've proven that you can start a business in Europe and build it to a global one.

Neelie Kroes (72) is the EU Commission's Digital Agenda Commissioner. The former Dutch minister and entrepreneur has been a member of the EU's top political administration for nine years. As EU Commissioner for Competition until 2009, Kroes oversaw sanctions by the European Commission against the software giant Microsoft. Former German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg advises Kroes on Internet issues.

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