Europe has a single digital market - and it's illegal

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Europeans are outpacing their governments in the creation of a common digital market, according to European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes.

"We have a single digital market in Europe, but it is illegal," she told delegates at the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) in Amsterdam today. "Legal markets are fragmented. We need to change that. I cannot explain to you why you can buy the same CD in every member country but not the same digital product."

Kroes stressed that the EC's digital plan, which includes a promise of broadband internet access for every EU citizen by 2020 and the creation of a single digital market, is the key to jumpstarting European economies.

"I do not know of any other investment option that can provide increases in comparative advantage across every sector," Kroes said. "The crisis has wiped out years of economic and social progress. It has exposed the structural weakness of Europe's economy. Without proper use of ICT over the next decade, Europe will become a broken economy. It could unravel into a series of broken societies."

Kroes noted that the current economic crisis exposed strains in Europe's social and economic model, and that if Europeans do not broadly embrace ICT solutions and create a favourable regulatory climate, the future will not prove kind to the continent.

"The aging lady Europe can't afford to hold back," she said. "There are four people working today for each retiree. In 2050, there will only be two workers for each retired person. How will we help each other, if we do not find digital solutions? The answers are there for us, if we dare to leave our comfort systems."

Kroes noted her position on open source software and open standards has not changed since she oversaw the 497 million fine against Microsoft as European Commissioner for Competition.

"If we block open source and open standards, we will get worse results," she said. "What I did formerly, I will stick to that line."

Kroes also urged the European Union to adapt ICT solutions in the energy sector, especially in modernising power grids. "The people who run grids are smart, but the systems are dumb," she said. "Smart grids would also diversify the electricity networks, and make them more sustainable."

Kroes also took pains to snuff out rumours that she will return to Dutch politics with national elections looming on 9 June.

"There is no need for me to come back to the Netherlands," she said. "I am European, and I have work to do."