Amongst last-minute campaigning and speculation on the General election last week, it would have been easy to miss that the European Commission launched its Digital Single Market (DSM) Strategy.
The strategy is centred on three pillars, covering 16 separate initiatives, some of which will be of great interest to the research community. For example, the strategy sets out plans to review current copyright regimes across member states which could help researchers access more copyrighted material and will also propose initiatives on free flow of data and a research open science cloud.
A priority for the Commission
The Commission hopes that if fully implemented, the DSM could help unlock up to €415bn in additional growth. Consequently, it has made addressing fragmentations within the digital market one of the Juncker Commission’s key political priorities. Currently the European digital market is made up of 42% national online services, 54% US-based online services and only 4% EU cross-border services.
Pillar 1: Better access for consumers and business to online goods and services
The strategy aims to break down current cross-country barriers in the digital market, including administration-heavy VAT-regimes, geo-blocking (restricting access to content based on geographic location) and current contract and copyright law.
In relation to the latter, the strategy proposes reform of the copyright regime in late 2015 to introduce more legal certainty, ensure better enforcement and harmonise copyright exceptions. Currently the UK is the only country in the EU that has a copyright exception for text and data mining for (non-commercial) research purposes, something that the Royal Society supported in our 2012 report, Science as an Open Enterprise. The exception allows researchers to use new technologies to read and analyse large amounts of text or data, finding new connections and potentially making new discoveries.
Pillar 2: Right environment for digital networks and services to flourish
The strategy sets out a number of measures to create appropriate infrastructure and regulatory conditions for innovation, investment and fair competition in the digital market. Within this, the need to strengthen both trust and security in digital services and in the handling of personal data is recognised. This is something that the Society recently examined as part of our PolicyLab series through a public panel discussion on the use of personal consumer data.
The General Data Protection Regulation, currently progressing through the legislative process in Europe, is mentioned as an essential piece of the puzzle in order to engender trust upon which the single market will be built. The current draft has raised some concern, particularly within the biomedical community, as being potentially damaging to research.
The strategy includes an initiative to establish a public-private partnership on cybersecurity in areas of technologies and solutions to increase online network security. The Society is currently undertaking a major project to set out a vision for Cybersecurity research in the UK and will be interested to see more detail of the proposals.
Pillar 3: Maximising growth potential for the European Digital Economy
The document from the Commission emphasises the need for good Information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure in order to take full advantage of data-driven science and new technologies, alongside people with the necessary skills to use it. It points to the potential economic benefits of investing in the digital economy, highlighting studies that estimate that by 2020, big data analytics could boost EU economic growth by a 1.9%, equalling a GDP increase of €206 bn. It also highlights that recent and ongoing changes to technology are changing how research is done and shared, leading to the era of ‘Open Science’. The Commission recently held a consultation to better understand these trends, to which the Society responded.
To aid the above, the Commission also outlined plans for initiatives on data ownership, free flow of data and a European Cloud, including a research open science cloud.
Future of European Research Funding
The proposed European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) – currently being discussed in trilogue negotiations – is mentioned as one of the range of potential sources for investment for delivering the strategy. Digital projects contain a ‘high innovation and research component’ and therefore are the type of initiatives that the Commission hopes will benefit from redirecting money from the European Research funding framework to EFSI.
This echoes the views presented by Commissioner Moedas when he visited the Society earlier this year, as he addressed the concerns raised in an open letter by 28 Nobel Laureates and 13 Laureates of other international prizes about the funds being taken from research. Commissioner Moedas argued that EFSI funding will go to high risk, high value investments – investments that, he claims, by their very nature are likely to be in in research and innovation.
With its potential impact on research, the Society will be following this strategy closely and engaging where necessary to ensure the best outcome.