Europe is spaffing €20bn on handouts for tech

'You will no longer feel any borders in the EU' promises UNICORN MAN

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Sketch Europe's dreams may be sinking like the Titanic, but wait: there’s €20bn of taxpayer’s cash swilling around for tech handouts. So we found at yesterday's Digital4EU shindig.

“There’s a lot of money with a digital label on it – over €20bn,” said Luciana Tomozei, policy advisor at the European Investment Bank.

This comes via the European Fund of Strategic Initiatives, Tomozei told a forum in Brussels yesterday.

The justification for the largesse is the Eurozone-wide slump. “Europe remains in a stubborn downturn,” Tomozei explained, with investment falling 15 per cent across the region, and in some states by 60 per cent. “Convergence is actually following a reverse trend.”

Applications need to be “bankable, commercially sound, economically and technically viable,” said Tomozei, who ominously added that the European Investment Bank has been given mandate to work with riskier projects.

Roberto Viola, the DG of DG-CONNECT (the “Commission for a Digital Agenda”) gave an update on the Digital Single Market proposals. While physical borders are going up all over Europe, Viola dreamed of a land where unicorns can roam freely. Without irony, he promised:

“You will no longer feel any borders in the EU.”

What did this mean?

“No roaming [sic]. No geoblocking. No impediment to porting content [sic] as you travel.”

It may not be perfect English, but you get the gist. In Brussels, you only need to speak digital.

To achieve this utopia, Viola promised to respect the freedom and integrity of contracts in Europe, while intervening to rip them up. Both at the the same time. To achieve more equitable distribution of commercial content, the EU must stipulate how content industries license their material across Europe. Introducing a top-down mandate on geoblocking means either forbidding certain conditions in contracts, or rendering existing conditions illegal… or both.

Cultural industries, particularly in smaller EU members, have warned this will tilt the playing field towards bland and generic output; Hollywood and Mr. Bean. With European films, you need to secure one or two key territories before you get funding.

Viola also said he was troubled that only 20 per cent of European cultural goods are available in more than one market. He’s right; you can’t find much Croatian poetry or Estonian hip hop on the High Street.

Last year, EU citizens told Brussels that they didn't really care about this burning issue. The EU Commission conducted a survey of over 27,000 EU citizens; only eight per cent had tried to access cross border content, while more than half of EU citizens polled in a vast pan-European survey found they had enough choice of content in their home country.

So the Commission is doing what the EU usually does when it doesn't get the answer it wants: it keeps asking the question, until EU citizens roll over and give in.

Viola is unusual for a Brussels bureaucrat: he could conceivably hold down a proper job, in the real world, outside the Brussels bureaucracy. He holds both a degree in electrical engineering and an MBA. But, like many smart techies, he thinks he can wave a magic wand over complex and sometimes perverse cultural markets, and get his desired result with no extra effort.

He said that large US internet platforms must have to obey one or two principles before DG-CONNECT gave them a free run over the EU.

“New actors have to respect the fundamental elements: consumer protection, and freedom of contract, and competition. What we demand in a way, it’s not much.”

If that’s what Europe baring its fangs looks like, Silicon Valley must be terrified. ®

Steve Bong was unavailable for comment.


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