Agreeing the EU’s 7-year budget is never simple or straightforward: still less so at the moment, a difficult fiscal climate, combined with an ever-greater imperative for Europe to invest in growth. And so I am glad that the EU’s national leaders have found a political agreement.
As the Commission President has stressed, this budget can still be a catalyst for growth and jobs, and a tool to boost our competitiveness. The significantly increased investment in Horizon 2020 will be making in EU research and innovation, including in the field of ICT, is a very vivid illustration of that. This is investing in tomorrow’s growth; and by acting at European scale we can ensure research and its benefits spread as widely as possible, including across borders. From Graphene and the Human Brain Project to building a European powerhouse in electronics, this investment will help us build a stronger society and a more prosperous economy.
I am of course disappointed that Member States could not agree on our proposal for the digital part of the Connecting Europe Facility, only agreeing to €1 billion out of the €9.2 billion we had put forward.
This still leaves room to invest in service infrastructure, in fields like eProcurement and eInvoicing, that can support a digital single market and ensure top-quality, 21st century public services for Europeans.
But this funding will have to be exclusively for digital services: because such a smaller sum does not leave room for investing in broadband networks. I regret that: because broadband is essential for a digital single market, the rails on which all tomorrow’s digital services will run; and this could have been an innovative and highly-market oriented way to deliver it, almost budget-neutral in the long run.
Nonetheless, we have all agreed on broadband targets for Europe, including fast broadband coverage for all by 2020. Those agreed objectives are now harder to reach, but we should stay focused on that goal. I will keep fighting, and I will support innovations that help roll out fast broadband to underserved areas: the Connecting Europe Facility was an important tool to move towards that goal, but not the only one.
Member States have now taken on themselves the responsibility to invest, with their own funds or the EU’s structural funds, in areas where there is real market failure. And in all other areas, if they see better broadband as the task of the market, then they must help us improve that market: make it more integrated, coherent and efficient, with a better balance of risk and reward. And they must support all the other initiatives we have taken or will be taking to facilitate broadband investment across Europe. I will also continue to work closely with the European Investment Bank to ensure their active involvement in lending for broadband projects. The recent capital increase of the Bank of €10 billion brings the promise of fresh broadband funding, and we should make the most of that.
I am ready to work and fight even harder, to develop a more favourable European market for investment in broadband, fixed and wireless.
If they do not support that wider policy agenda, national governments will not achieve their own ambitions on broadband and the digital divide; they will face far more pressure to set up their own support schemes in areas where the market alone will act; and we risk not being able to build a connected, competitive continent.
Written by Neelie Kroes