The EU wants to level the digital playing field with the Digital Single Market but will gaming companies ever get to benefit from legislation likely to face a tricky road ahead?
The European Union has always harked after harmonization in the same way that Captain Ahab set sail after the whale in Moby Dick. A cornerstone of policy and ethos the technocrats that have long run the sprawling bureaucracy see the uniformity of regulations to be a basis to gain an equality of standard. Many business leaders would agree but as the market has grown, and the markets themselves have changed, there has been a bit of scramble to keep pace.
Digital Single Market
• European Commission’s 16 initiatives
• To provide “free flow of data”
• Possible regulation of search engines
The development of multiple informational transfer platforms that occurred all too organically across the continent has long set a bit of a puzzle before the European Commission who saw could recognize a squabble in the making when they saw one. Attempts to put together what they felt apt to call a Digital Single Market floundered as negotiations stalled over the multitude of legal and bureaucratic issues that face the attempt.
Europe actually got off to a good start with the GSM standard of mobile comms but since then has fumbled the ball a little with a market more noted for its schisms than its harmony. When the European Council called for the DSM over two years ago they perhaps felt these national differences could be overcome as they have been in so many other matters, but I wouldn’t go gambling news of an agreement as such will be forthcoming any time soon.
Whilst the European Council can call for the European Commission to achieve something the political and cultural differences of the various nations involved often overwhelm even simple proposals, and this is far from simple, a set of 16 initiatives spread over the next five years. These are, perhaps lamentably, non-legislative initiatives, so their success and failure very much depend on the goodwill and desire of each nation involved.
Can The Market Be Harmonized?
Publishing their “Digital Single Market – Bringing Down Barriers To Unlock Online Opportunities” document that lays out the argument for this harmonization based on a firm footing of three major principles. Maximizing the economic growth potential in the market, bringing about ideal and equal conditions for development and innovation, and gain better access for users to digital goods and services. On the face of it these are by no means bad goals.
“I want to see pan-continental telecoms networks,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the media, “digital services that cross borders and a wave of innovative European start ups.” All of which could well be a result of the DSM, but only in an ideal world. The present scattered and divided collection of markets provide a variety of regulatory and legal frameworks that would require an overhaul effecting a sector undergoing remarkably rapid growth.
To put this in some perspective the digital landscape of Europe is entirely patchwork with geo-blocking a feature of the internet that has long irritated those in Europe who like to bet on sports in the EU or elsewhere at sites or with apps that weren’t native to their own nations. Sometimes because of political considerations, but often through the retention of age old institutions of state control, or worse, the attitudes of one in the regulatory bodies concerned.
As it stands, along with many other providers of online services, the online gaming community, including sites like Bet365 and similar, stands to gain much from a DSM, with a uniformity of provision of service that has been more honored in the breach by far too many nations. The question becomes, however, not if a DSM is desirable in Europe, it almost certainly is, but whether the European Commission can come up with a legislative agenda that can be built upon after the national leaders discuss it in June.
Free Flow Of Data Initiative
Amongst some rehashed ideas from past, failed, proposals there is a new “free flow of data initiative” and a European cloud service for researchers which would see Europe try to drag itself into contention in the data sector, and whilst there will be those in the EU gambling laws and legal differences will put the breaks on, it’ll be in the US they’ll be losing sleep as this could become substantial competition to their own domination of the global marketplace and the inherent influence that provides.
Part of this new move by Europe involves a deeper exploration of whether or not internet search engines and social networks or app stores need to be regulated in the EU. This is fighting talk where the ever litigious Google come from, and they’re not the only tech giant with issues with these initiatives, with the argument there’s little evidence to demonstrate this is a good idea. Their inability to step pricing across the national borders of Europe an obvious threat to their bottom line.
This isn’t Brussels pumping out yet another anti money laundering directive, this would radically alter the global market for data provision, will require an examination of e-privacy laws and copyright legalities in each nation, and involves the European telecoms market which has been famed for nothing if not its fluidity. Attempting to regulate pricing variations alone is a minefield and enforcement of anything agreed would require a level of scrutiny the EU probably can’t afford.
In the end the DSM is likely to wallow for several years to come, the idealism behind it laudable, the practicalities barely covered and the political will far more available in rhetoric than concrete action. One only need look at the nations that still refuse to allow competition to enter its gambling and gaming markets to know that if there is an agreement of any sort to come from this it will be one hamstrung from the off by sectional interests and big spending opposition.