Whether telework, e-Learning or 5G networks: the continuing Coronavirus crisis is likely to accelerate digitalization in many areas of life. Hence, one of the self-proclaimed core issues of the European Commission has come even more into focus.
For millions of employees, working from home and video conferences have suddenly become part of their every-day life; pupils and students receive only digital course contents and course work and in order to stem the pandemic, many countries are discussing the (im)possibility of mobile apps. It is not without reason that UN Secretary General António Guterres predicts a “mass digitalisation of human relations”, foresees a future, that “will be far more digital than the past”. EU-Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also does not see a contradiction between a necessary recovery programme and the self-proclaimed focus of the Commission on digitalization. Von der Leyen believes in a European Union that will come out the crisis “more resilient, green and digital”.
Planned Council conclusions
According to a leaked draft for Council conclusions, which are to be adopted by the TTE Council on 5 June 2020, the experiences from the current crisis shall be thoroughly analysed, deriving from it relevant measures in the area of digitalization, in particular in respect of e-Health, digital education, e-Government, data sharing and broadband connectivity. The draft requires the EU to facilitate the “sharing of data amongst businesses and institutions” and to demand that 5G spectrum frequencies should be introduced by the end of the year. Apart from that, the Council should voice its concerns regarding the working methods of online platforms and “strongly emphasise the need for clear and harmonised rules and responsibilities and accountability for digital services”.
For the EU Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, the current crisis and the consequences for the economy once again show the necessity of a digital tax. “What is clear from the European Union point of view is that we need a digital taxation”, said the Commissioner during an event on 6 April. Agreement concerning this issue had been a goal at EU level for many years. However, due to the strong opposition of some Member States, it has not yet been possible to accomplish a common regulation regarding taxation and the definition of “digital permanent establishments”. Instead the aim now is to work towards an agreement at OECD level. However, individual Member States did not longer want to be just strung along and implemented a digital tax at national level. For example, France; however, with the promise to delay levying of the tax until the end of 2020. Austria too has a kind of digital tax since the beginning of the year, whereby the previous government fell significantly short of its potential. There is evidence to suggest that an early agreement is in reach at OECD level; the adoption of a corresponding resolution has been planned for the summer this year. The debate is to be continued within the framework of the plenary meeting of the G20/OECD on 1 and 2 July 2020 in Berlin.
Digital Services Act
Due to current events, the consultations of the Commission on the eagerly awaited Digital Services Act, which should have started at the end of March, have been delayed. According to media reports it is currently unclear what impact the current situation will have on the plans to regulate online platforms. Hence, the Chamber of Labour welcomes it all the more that the European Parliament is already dealing with the question, which aspects the planned Act should include.
In a letter to MEPs, Renate Anderl, President of the Chamber of Labour, and Christoph Klein, Director of the Chamber of Labour, emphasise the importance of an up-to-date legal act, which meets the requirements of employment, social affairs, consumer protection, tax and competitive challenges of the digital world. What was needed here was fair competition, the validity of the destination principle, the fight against the precarisation of employees and the prevention of the circumvention of tax and duty obligations by Internet companies. To strengthen consumer protection, Anderl and Klein demand among other transparency regulations for rankings, a unified regulation of online advertising and the fight against cybercrime. In order to guarantee fair competition, sector specific ex-ante regulations for market dominant internet platforms are urgently needed. Appropriate regulatory authorities at European and national level, which perform ex-ante supervisory duties, have to be set up immediately. Ex-ante regulations are also needed for the development of digital innovation centres and artificial intelligence. Furthermore, it is necessary to introduce dispute settlement mechanisms.