A DSM without the UK?

04 July 2016

Author: Graham Taylor

The recent Brexit vote led me – as a Brit – progressively through emotions of surprise, anger and now concern. Apparently, I personally belong to a minority who thought that the UK would be better off seeking to change the EU from within, rather than casting it aside, seeing it as a ‘failed project’. The realisation is of course now setting in that whilst making a decision like that may have been easy, how to implement it is going to prove a nightmare – not just for the UK, but for all in the EU and beyond. No wonder that the mood in Brussels last week seemed to reflect my own emotions – surprise, being replaced by anger, and now concern.

The press of course have homed in on the populist areas of immigration, sovereignty and trade, but for those of us within ICT, Brexit poses many other questions, all of which we can’t even start to know the answers to. A central issue is the whole future of the Digital Single Market.

Arguably with one Member State the fewer, the whole process should be made simpler – one less voice around the table – but I suggest that the reality will be somewhat different. Whilst EU politicians might wish to ignore this, the UK Government has continued to take a prominent role throughout, by being a leader on Member State thinking and in the pragmatic implementation of open government solutions. Just look at the UK’s work in opening up public sector data, the delivery of G-Cloud, the development of the Open Standards Principles, the research exception for text and data mining, and the private copy exception foreseen without a compensation scheme.

A key DSM pillar is ‘Better on-line access to goods and services, helping to make the EU’s digital world a seamless and level marketplace to buy and sell’. Central to this has been the recognition that ICT is a global market, there is no place for a ‘Fortress Europe’, and the only pragmatic approach is one which is user-centric and founded on openness. So maybe the UK will no longer be included in the politicians’ view of the DSM, but practically can the UK be outside its engagement? I suggest that continuing to include the UK ‘inside’ the development and thinking would not only ensure continuation of the pragmatic development of thinking and early implementation of DSM principles, but would also provide a new opportunity to validate and ensure the global impact of the solution. The UK is one of the founders of the D7 group of digital nations, so is this actually an opportunity to extend the scope of the DSM and emphasise the need for global cooperation and collaboration?

I’d love to think so, but maybe some of the politicians would find this a bitter pill to swallow? The early signs are not good – already we’ve seen the resignation of the UK’s nominated Commissioner, UK MEPs under pressure (which has led to the cancellation of important committee meetings), and challenges to the future role or use of English as the working language. Those to whom I speak at the operational level in the Commission are desperate to find a pragmatic solution. Let’s try at least to salvage some good from a decision which apparently we can’t overturn, even though, personally to me at least, it appears to be a bad one.


Picture under CC by Dave Kellam