Europe’s big plans for a regulatory revolution could have startling effects on the tech sector

On 6 May, 2015, the European Commission published its Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy, a set of 16 proposals aimed at building a stable and consistent set of rules governing the digital environment in all European Union Member States.

These proposals come at a crucial time for developers, whose importance to the EU economy is unquestioned. In fact, a recent study concluded that in 2015, the app economy accounted for 1.57 million jobs in the EU, and that number continues to grow. Every day, developers come up with new life-changing products and improve existing ones, creating jobs and spurring growth in the process.

It is imperative that the EU get this right the first time. In order to encourage growth and spark innovation, any reforms to the marketplace must be thoughtful and meaningful.

Developers across Europe would thrive in a single harmonised market where companies can buy and sell products with fewer obstacles and barriers. On many digital matters, developers currently have to negotiate the regulatory frameworks of 28 separate EU member states, which has led to a fragmented digital landscape within Europe. A single, harmonised digital market would greatly improve efficiency while fostering widespread innovation for the benefit of developers, consumers, and the European digital economy as a whole. This single market harmonisation would be the bedrock upon which future innovation would be able to flourish.

But this pro-innovation regulatory revolution could yet become a bureaucratic crackdown. There is a risk that Europe will instead create new rules that would hamstring developers; quelling innovation and slowing growth. Proposals could include one that would potentially burden online platforms with complex and unworkable regulations; failing to account for the fact that the existing rules are working well. Future proposals could also rewrite the liability rules that govern the Internet, rules that have allowed startups to create innovative products for consumers. All of these proposals signal the intent to create a heavily regulated online world in which it would be tougher for developers to gain a foothold.

Instead, a ‘light-touch’ approach and more industry-based codes of conduct and self-regulation should be used so that Europe remains a digital leader on a global scale, preserving a bright future for Europe’s digital sector beyond the DSM.

The DSM is the elephant in the room, and it undoubtedly holds huge potential for the industry. Creating an effective DSM that supports innovation and growth will help Europe cement itself as a global leader in digital innovation going forward. Developers are an integral part of the future of the European digital economy, and the DSM is an important building block for their future.

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