The strategy is the EU's plan to create a free and secure digital single market in which people can shop online across borders and businesses can sell across the EU wherever they are in the EU. It seeks to expand the EU's digital economy to offer consumers better services at better prices and to help businesses grow.
The strategy, which was published by the Commission on 6 May 2015, has three objectives:
European citizens face barriers when they use online services and tools. Online markets remain largely domestic: only 15% of citizens shop online from another EU country and as few as 7% of small and medium-sized businesses sell in another EU country.
Persisting regulatory barriers and market fragmentation lead to citizens missing out on goods and services and slow down the growth of businesses.
According to the Commission, a fully functional digital single market could add as much as €415 billion to the EU economy a year. To unlock this potential, the EU plans sweeping reforms, ranging from a new copyright framework to parcel delivery and telecoms.
The Commission's strategy for the digital single market includes a number of legislative and non-legislative measures to be unveiled in 2015 and 2016. They are divided intro three 'pillars':
Reforming rules for online cross-border sales
This includes a Commission proposal to harmonise EU rules for digital content purchases, such as apps or e-books, EU rights for cross-border online sales of physical goods and improved consumers' rights.
Improving cross-border parcel delivery
This will entail measures aimed to improve price transparency and regulatory oversight of the cross-border parcel market.
The Commission has proposed a draft regulation to end so-called 'geo-blocking' - denying access to websites based in another EU country or charging different prices depending on a customer's location.
Reforming European copyright law
The Commission will propose measures to ensure that content services, such as video services, can be used across borders. This would mean that people who have bought a film or music at home can enjoy it when travelling across Europe. The Commission will also step up efforts against infringements of intellectual property rights.
Cutting VAT-related red tape
This includes measures to allow sellers of physical goods to benefit from single electronic registration and payment, and the introduction of a common VAT threshold to help start-ups get online.
Reforming EU telecoms rules
This includes measures that the Commission will propose:
Reviewing rules for audiovisual media
This will include a review of the audiovisual media services directive, measures for the promotion of European works and the rules for the protection of minors and advertising.
Assessing the role of online platforms
This will involve a Commission assessment of the non-transparency of search results, the use online platforms make of information they collect, relationships between platforms and suppliers, and restrictions on people's ability to switch between platforms.
There will also be an analysis of ways to tackle illegal content on the internet.
Boosting trust in digital services' handling of personal data
This includes a possible review of the e-privacy directive, which currently applies only to traditional telecoms companies and does not cover other providers of digital services. The Commission's review will be carried out after the entry into force of new EU rules on data protection.
This will also include the establishment of a public-private partnership on cybersecurity.
Building a data-driven economy
The Commission will present:
Defining priorities for standards and interoperability
This will focus on areas seen as critical to the digital single market, such as e-health, travel planning, e-freight or smart energy metering.
Building an inclusive digital single market
This will include measures to boost people's digital skills, which the Commission will incorporate into future initiatives on skills and training.
It will also include a new e-government action plan for 2016-2020. As part of this, the Commission will:
At its meeting in October 2013, EU leaders called for a consumer and business-friendly digital single market. They said it was vital for growth and European competitiveness in a globalised world.
The European Council reiterated the completion of the digital single market in 2015 as one of the EU's priorities at its meeting in June 2014.
At its meeting on 18 December 2014, the European Council asked the Commission to present an ambitious communication on the digital single market ahead of the June 2015 European Council meeting.
At their meeting on 25-26 June 2015, EU leaders supported the strategy and said it should be used to promote inclusive growth in all EU regions. They urged action to tackle market fragmentation, build necessary digital infrastructure and promote the digitisation of European industry. They also called for a rapid adoption of new rules for telecoms, cybersecurity and data protection.
Culture ministers had a first exchange of views on the audiovisual aspects of the strategy on 18-19 May 2015. They supported the cross-border portability of content, the fight against illegal content and the need to find the right balance on copyright. They also stated that the territoriality principle is important for content creation, which means that geo-blocking should be reduced but might sometimes be justified.
Ministers agreed that the existing audiovisual media services directive should be adapted to technological changes. This review should:
Competitiveness ministers at the Council held their first exchange of views on the strategy on 28-29 May 2015. They agreed that the strategy covers the most important issues for building the digital single market. They underlined the importance of creating copyright rules that are fit for purpose, updating e-commerce rules, boosting consumer confidence, awareness and protection and insisted on the need for action to reinforce digital skills and data protection rules.
They also identified a number of priority actions:
Ministers also supported the creation of a European open science agenda, which would enable open access to publicly-funded research publications and related data. They said that research should play a bigger role in the digital market strategy and contribute to digital innovation.
Telecoms ministers also discussed the digital single market strategy at a meeting of the TTE Council on 11-12 June 2015. They welcomed its objectives and reiterated the importance of a digitised economy to promote jobs and growth and boost the EU's competitiveness.
Issues highlighted by ministers included:
Ministers also underlined that there should be good coordination on national level to ensure that the strategy is effectively implemented.
On 15 June, Justice ministers reached a general approach on the data protection regulation. This has allowed the Council and the European Parliament to start negotiations. The regulation will improve the protection of personal data, while improving opportunities for businesses in the digital single market.
In May 2016, the Competitiveness Council agreed on the main principles to ensure portability of online content services in the internal market. The agreement enabled the Council to start negotiations with the European Parliament.
They also adopted conclusions on digital single market technologies and the modernisation of public services.