Last week I wrote about the challenges and opportunities for digital and tech policy in the UK in 2021, but we should also be sure to be paying attention to developments in Brussels at the same time.
This week, across the Channel, the EU spelt out its proposals for 2021 on digital services and digital markets. While the UK may no longer be a member of the European Union, the path they choose will undoubtedly impact UK policy making and UK businesses.
Taken together the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA) will form the foundations of an updated rule book for tech in Europe. The DMA focuses on obligations on ‘gatekeepers’ or ‘gateway’ businesses online in an bid to boost digital competition, while the DSA attempts to tackle illegal online content and goods.
While the EU will take the lead on setting the rules, a testing task given differing approaches among its member states, enforcement will be left predominantly in the hands of individual countries. Debates over how exactly to achieve coordination and coherency will likely be a feature of these reforms coming into force, a process that is likely to be both long and arduous.
The Commissioners leading these changes – Vestager and Breton – may want this done and dusted in two years, but already that feels ambitious.
Players in this space should use this timeline to their advantage by engaging early and often. How and what that engagement should look like will vary from company to company but next year will be a key moment to set out your stall in a few key areas.
First, huge amounts of progress is already being made in many of the fields that the DSA and DMA grapple with: the tech sector needs to shout about this often and loudly – and most importantly in the direction of the Berlaymont. Whether work is happening on improving user choice around advertising, offering greater transparency about decision-making processes on platforms or updating terms of service to maintain the safety and security of platforms, the sector needs to get better at telling stakeholders about the improvements they are making independent of any specific regulations.
These improvements are often rolled out inconspicuously, which means they often go unnoticed. This approach has to change.
Second, this is not a debate the start-ups, scale-ups and the investment community can sit out. There will be numerous hearings and mini-consultations, events and workshops where these voice should be heard. It is always hard to dedicate time and resource to advocacy, but it doesn’t have to done alone. The Digital Future for Europe Coalition for example brings together over 100 start-ups, scale ups and organisations that make up Europe’s tech ecosystem. By joining Coalitions like this you can access ready-to-use advocacy material and have your voice amplified.
Finally, the Commission is keen to continue to develop its evidence base and provide legal certainty. The tech community should engage with this proactively to ensure that such evidence isn’t gathered in a vacuum. Next year is the time to explicitly spell out the many upsides – economic, social and personal – of the tech ecosystem to the European authorities. Tech undoubtedly will be key to the recovery and future growth for Europe and companies should not shy away from breaking down exactly what their contribution can and will be.
The Commission has sketched out their proposals it is now time for tech to move in and fill in the gaps and help them correct any early errors.