What will the year 2016 bring?

The question that interests everybody at the beginning of the new year is: what will the new year bring? Will it be a good year? For the members of the European Parliament, one of the questions that interest them, among other things, is the question of what kind of legislative proposals the European Commission will come forth with. What will the European Parliament achieve? Shall we see any results to the debates?

Can we speed up?

The questions I am particularly interested in personally are related to the digital single market. As we know, the Commission came forward with a communication on this subject in May 2015. On the basis of that strategy, the European Parliament decided to draft an own initiative report, authored by two committees (the industry, research and energy committee and the internal market and consumer protection committee), and showing what the European Parliament would like to see changed in the Commission’s legislative proposals. The report will finally be voted in the plenary in January, but so far it has been quite positive towards digital transformation and promoting innovation.

Now the European Parliament is waiting for new, more specific legislative proposals to start coming in from the Commission, based on the broader digital single market strategy, as so far there has been little that the Parliement could work on. Although it is understandable that drafting legislative proposals takes time, we would like to see the process sped up. We do not have much time to debate, and have to start showing results quite soon, as the fragmentation of the digital market is hindering the European economy. European consumers are not happy, and do not understand the artificial barriers created by 28 sets of legislation. The internet is global and knows no borders. Due to the fragmentation, companies are reluctant to invest in Europe, as the administrative costs of operating here are too high, and the rules are difficult to understand.

Europe wants to be the leader in many fields, but so far other continents are much more innovation friendly, which very often means fewer rules rather than more. In Europe there is a strong drive for introducing more rules to cover all the risks. The problem with the digital market is that changes happen so quickly. This is in severe conflict with the time required to pass and implement laws. How to draft legislation that is both futureproof and technology neutral? If politicians knew what the future will bring, they would create rules for the future and not react to the changes.

Will we always lag behind?

In many ways, the situation we are currently facing is comparable to the situation before the industrial revolution. At that time there were also voices that asked new machines to be banned. Queen Elizabeth did not grant a license to the knitting machine, because it would have left all of her craftsmen out of work. The digital revolution will also leave a lot of people in the traditional sectors unemployed, and it will transform the way we live and work. Can we stop it? Probably not.

Queen Elizabeth was also not very successful in trying to avoid the knitting machines being used. Once something has been invented, it will probably also be put to use. Parallels with the industrial revolution can also be drawn in relation to the legislation. At first there were no rules for the usage of cars. When accidents started to happen, the understanding came that there is a need for regulation that specifies the way people use cars. Later on came safety requirements for the cars themselves, designed to improve people’s safety. Along with the rules came people’s awareness of the risks related to machines and by that, also, safety was enhanced. The same could apply to the use of digital tools. We probably cannot foresee all the risks related to their use, so we must not strive to cover everything at once. As the tools are more and more widely used, the problems become increasingly clear, and the places that need regulation are clarified. Together with discussions over the legislation, we need to educate the people by sharing knowledge of the risks as well as opportunities that the digital world creates, so that they can make better, more informed decisions about how they wish to use digital tools.

Will robots finally take over?

Whether the new year will also bring some clarification in the field of robots remains to be seen. It is clear that automation is being used more and more in different sectors. Robots are becoming increasingly intelligent and making their own decisions. Drones are flying across borders and it is not clear who is responsible when something happens. As this is all very new, and at the same time developing very rapidly, it would be wise to tackle these issues on the European level and not to leave all member states to struggle with the same problems on their own.

As seen, many questions are still left without answers. But these questions are also a driver for many heated discussions and discussions bring solutions. Any way you look at it, it is going to be a very interesting year in legislative debates.

This article is part of New Europe’s Our World in 2016, published January 4, 2016