30 January, 2014

“Old world policies must evolve: we need a new approach to the digital era”

Leading MEP Catherine Trautmann tells ETNO Digital about her vision for the Next Term. A 360° interview on regulation, competition, Connected Continent and the review of the Framework.

If you look at the next term and at digital policies, what would your number one priority be?

Telecommunications, together with energy, are the key enabler for the creation of the businesses and the jobs of the future. This is why my first priority would be to have a real strategy for ICT, tackling both the industrial policy side and the access to services one. Technology is changing fast and we need to adapt. Therefore regulation needs to be updated to the real situation in which companies live. This can be done only by taking a holistic approach.

How would you describe this holistic approach?

I’m disappointed that in this term we didn’t align the EU priorities on research, innovation and digital economy. ICTs are transversal: they are important for health, skills and of course for all the services running on the net. For example, thanks to ICTs, young people can set up new businesses with low investments today. So, while we share principles like technological neutrality, let me say that technology is not neutral as such. It should be used and directed to empower new jobs, the achievement of climate change goals and all our overarching political goals. To those colleagues who say that telecommunications is the old world, as today we need to speak only about the internet, I reply that  you need to have networks for that to happen!

In this context, can the mid-term review of the Digital Agenda constitute a first step to re-orient ICT policies?

Yes. If you look at my local responsibility [in Strasbourg], we are making sure that the so called “economical areas” labelled as priority are getting world class networks. Being just connected is not enough, we should change the way in which business is done. For this reason, we would need to involve all the Directorate Generals at the Commission to streamline digital policies: energy, industry, environment and others. We need a horizontal approach: telecoms regulation is useful to other sectors and it’s not the end of the story. We need to link it to other policies.

What’s your recipe to transform this vision into reality?

Once we have a vision, we need the investments to make it happen. And for that we need to give people a clear and understandable framework. For this reason, the next step of revision must be done with ambition and with a method that allows all stakeholders to be part of the exercise and give their contributions.

How do you see the relationship between regulation, competition and growth?

So far we didn’t speak of our initiatives on universal access, for example. Mobile is a success case of how you can obtain universal access by enabling good competition. But, more in general, the way in which regulation is conceived is the crucial point. When I was in charge of the revision of the package, I wanted a study on the social impact of the sector. We always need to ask ourselves what’s the impact of a regulation? Is it positive, negative or is the period of time that we give to adapt right? Is it promoting positive or negative competition? How can we use ICTs to boost social innovation?  It’s much more than traditional telecoms regulation, because we need to look at how to support the creation of businesses, how to promote smart cities and so on. When changing the rules, we should aim at having competition regulation which is positive both for consumers and companies.

We need to explore new aspects of competition. If we want to be as strong as other parts of the world. We need to develop a view of the common interest among companies and users in a positive way. We cannot put industry and consumers against each other. So far, this clash has damaged our industry. If we look at the number of jobs this means, it is enormous. All the policy and regulatory decisions about this sector shouldn’t be a way to sanction the companies, but they must be a tool to emphasize development of businesses and jobs. ICTs are enabler of growth.

How do you see the parliamentary work on the Connected Continent Regulation?

I see frustration among stakeholders on this Regulation, which is a revision that isn’t a revision. We need a new, clear calendar for the next legislature to do this reform. And make sure we involve everybody. But now we are focused on getting what is good in Kroes’ proposal and make sure it constitutes a solid basis for the next steps. What we will approve should be useful for the next MEPs who come in. If we fail, if we just leave it there and don’t work on it, it would be a difficult situation for the next Parliament and Commission. If I’m elected, in the next term, I will be very exigent and ask to the next Commission that we adopt a new methodology and a new strategy.

What is your view on having a European regulator?

It’s not a European regulator that creates the market. Things need to move together: a stronger regulator should come once there are the conditions for it to exist and we need to work to build them. I think that, for the moment, we need to give BEREC the time it needs to gain an even stronger role.

As for the 2009 Telecoms Package, which you sealed in the previous term, what’s the way forward?

We didn’t have a quick transposition of the Framework and, now, with the Connected Continent, we have a sort of analysis of what didn’t happen. It comes too early. We don’t need communication activities, we need solid and concrete proposals. In my report on the implementation of the regulatory framework I indicated the way to go for the review. First, we need a period of discussion. We cannot impose again rules to the sector without being sure of the effects. We need to look at the package, then have a period to analyze, discuss and take a decision to have a more flexible regulation, combining certainty and adaptability. Because this is really necessary. But everybody needs to be on board. My concern is the attitude of the Council. We need to fight our way in the next legislature to put this on the agenda for the Council too.

By Alessandro Gropelli – Strasbourg, 14 Jan. 2014

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