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Science

'We have to create the Digital Single Market'

Europe has achieved a single market in the offline world. But what about the bloc's digital realm? DW speaks to Andrus Ansip, the European Commission's new vice-president for the Digital Single Market.

DW: Andrus Ansip, you're part of a new commission. What's your outlook for the job ahead?

Andrus Ansip: We have to create the Digital Single Market. We were able to create a single market for the physical world, but in the digital world, this market does not exist. For freedoms, free movement of people, capital, services, goods - this is a reality in the European Union, but only in the offline world, and not, unfortunately in the online world. In the online world we have to deal with fragmentation of the market - we have 28 regulations dealing with digital issues, and in fact those 28 regulations are creating barriers between member states.

You're talking about the regulations of the 28 different countries of the EU…

Yes. We have 28 regulations, dealing with data protection, for example. We have 28 different regulations dealing with consumer protection, and for micro businesses, family business, small and medium sized businesses. It is absolutely impossible to understand how those different regulations work [together].

But for many people, the idea of a Digital Single Market, spanning such a massive area (the EU), is a chaotic concept. What can you, as former prime minister of Estonia, which is celebrated for having digitalized almost every aspect of public life, bring to the party?

Well, we have to create this single market which does not exist in the European Union. And this means, what's possible in the offline world has to be possible in the online world. For instance, you can buy goods physically from a shop and no one says this isn't for you...

You're referring to blocking services with "geo-blocking"...

Yes, in the online world we face geo-blocking and re-routing, and this is pretty uncomfortable. We have to continue with the creation of a telecom single market. This is in process today, but we have to abolish roaming surcharges.

There are a number of business models in the online world, which are specific to the tech industry and do not exist in the physical world. If, for instance, I buy a banana from a supermarket, the supermarket won't try to sell me a subscription to the banana, and I won't be charged based on how quickly or slowly I eat the banana. But those ideas exist online. We are made to pay for every little thing and are locked into services. How has it been possible for this situation to arise?

Portability of content is another issue we have to deal with, because today if you'd like to change your telecom company or mobile phone, in many cases, you can't take the apps with you to the new service provider. It's not fair that if you pay for content at home, you might not be able to access it abroad. But this is the reality in the European Union. And I would like to say this is a lose-lose situation. If I don't have access to my legally bought content, then it's the last time I'll pay for the content.

So are you saying consumers should vote with their feet - stop using a service if they don't like it or the charges they pay?

What I'm saying is we have to reform copyright. I would like to enjoy the content, the masterpieces created by masters, and the creators will get my money, and the market will get bigger. We have to change this situation, where [providers] are not willing to accept my money even if I'm willing to pay twice as much. And this means that thousands or millions of people are using VPNs [virtual private networks] and they are not paying creators for this content.

You're talking about how people use virtual private networks to get around geo-blocked content - if they want to watch a show that's being streamed in the US and they're in Europe, they use a VPN to get around the restrictions.

Exactly. When you're used to paying to watch a football game or TV series at home and then you travel abroad they say "no," it is blocked for you, the easiest thing to do is use a VPN. And creators and rights-holders lose money.

The other day you tweeted what you called a "useful reminder" from the CEO of Alcatel about opening up more spectrum to deal with the "tsunami" of data that's coming. If I place that next to data protection, what's more important for Europe?

They both are important. We have to protect our citizen's data. We have to protect everybody's privacy, because "trust is a must." If people can't trust Internet-based services, they will not use them. But we also need a deep cooperation in spectrum between member states. Yes, spectrum is a natural resource, and it's up to member states to deal with their natural resources. But more coordination on the level of the European Union is definitely needed, because of [things like] the Internet of Things - say you're driving across borders, will your car stop suddenly or will you be in an accident? But we also have to find solutions with our neighboring countries, outside of the European Union.

These are all questions the European Commission has been dealing with for many years. Since at least 2012 we've heard talk about a new data protection directive, and 2015 was once flagged as the year it would happen. So will it happen this year?

I hope so. Creating this Digital Single Market strategy we have to focus on activities which we believe will get us closer to that. For example, in the country I know best, Estonia, we introduced a "once only" principle in 2007. It gave a real boost to inter-operability - our relatively small databases started to cross-reference information. It was also a boost for digital signatures. During the first six years, Estonians gave one million digital signatures, but now they are giving one million per week! And it was mainly because we implemented this principle on the level of the law.

Andrus Ansip was prime minister of Estonia from 2005-2014. He took on his current role as European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market in November 2014, and is joined by Günther Oettinger, commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society. Many have joked about the fact that two men were chosen in the new commission to do the job of one woman in the previous commission - Neelie Kroes, who was Vice-President for the Digital Agenda for Europe (2010-2014).

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