Competitiveness: Opportunity knocks

WHEN discussing the preparedness of the military, the old saying goes that the generals are always preparing to win the previous war. But when it comes to European economic policy, this is certainly not the case. Both the Dutch and Slovak presidencies of the European Council – as well as that of our third partner Malta – will focus on new ways to stimulate economic activity.

In practice it is very difficult to shop from Bratislava in, say, the Netherlands.In practice it is very difficult to shop from Bratislava in, say, the Netherlands. (Source: SME)

Perhaps most telling is our attention to the Digital Single Market. In the Informal Competitiveness Council on January 28-29 much attention will be devoted to this subject. Whereas in many, more traditional, areas the Single Market is a given, the Digital Market is often still sheltered and far from unified. Developments in technology are booming, but rules and regulations remain in place that – instead of opening up opportunities – hinder new business models.

The European consumer wants to have the opportunity to shop online. In practice it is very difficult to shop from Bratislava in, say, the Netherlands. The website you are using will redirect you to a website elsewhere with different products at completely different prices. Shipment across Europe remains burdensome and payment from one country to another is often just not possible. Paradoxically, new market tools create new barriers. That is not how a single market should work.

Another area where important strides can and should be made is in the market for services. In Europe more than 70 percent of the population is working in the services industry. If we fail to foster a single market, we will leave many resources untapped. We aim at making progress from the viewpoint of interesting pricing, as well as to enhance employment. The services market can do with a boost.

In order to achieve our goals, we will have to act on many fronts. First, further digitalisation is required. This can only be achieved by giving more attention to education, not only in schools and universities but also through workplace training. Technical developments are moving so quickly that “éducation permanente” is necessary.

Second, we will have to adapt the legislative framework for the business community in order to enhance the speed of operations. “The market will not wait” is the motto that we have to keep in mind. A paperless business environment is just around the corner. Change will happen and it is better to guide or even be ahead of the change, rather than have Europe lagging behind.

Last, we will have to develop new tools and find those “whizz-kids” to help us do so. With new methods we can make the world around us more transparent. For these reasons and to support the political process, the Netherlands plans to organise “Hackathons” across Europe – including in Slovakia – during which young programmers will be asked to develop transparency apps for the EU. The winner will be invited to Amsterdam, to the international “unconference Transparency Camp Europe”.

We aim at better, but mostly smarter regulation. We aim at developing skills. We aim for young Europeans and Slovaks to enter this exciting new world.

By Richard van Rijssen, the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Slovakia

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