Thank you for inviting me to take the floor at your joint annual reception. I welcome this opportunity, as I welcome your joint statement on the importance of Digitally Driven Growth.
I have to say that I'm not really one for this kind of thing – launch events, ceremonies, Christmas receptions. I never have been.
So I don't attend events like this just to exchange best wishes, shake hands, make small talk, or collect business cards. I attend when there is a serious and important issue at stake.
And, make no mistake, this is important. It is serious. It is about as serious as it gets.
Out there, markets are in turmoil, politicians are making extremely difficult decisions, and people are facing one of the grimmest economic outlooks in a lifetime. One in ten of our labour force faces unemployment; in some countries, as high as one in five.
Meanwhile, we are desperately looking for the magic ingredient to offer us hope. The way to build the economy of the future.
We don't need to look that far. This magic ingredient is right here in this room: it is in our sector, the sector I'm responsible for, the sector you're responsible for: it is the Internet, digital technology. ICT.
You know that, I don't need to bore you with figures. The figures are in your own joint statement. But remember, investing in this sector could give us billions of euros, millions of jobs. That makes the sector unique.
That perspective makes me hopeful. But, to tell the truth, it also makes me a little bit ashamed. Because here we are, recognising the enormous benefits of the digital economy. Recognising the high stakes as our continent faces economic and social turmoil, and an uncertain future.
Yet we all stand here waiting for someone else to make the first move, to stick their head above the parapet and invest in the high speed broadband we need.
If we carry on like that, we won't get anywhere. If we miss this opportunity to invest in the future, we will be missing a trick. We won't be able to guarantee our citizens jobs in a smart economy. And we won't be ready to face the future.
Getting Every European Digital is not just a slogan: it's an economic essential for future success. So my first two years in office have been dedicated to creating the right environment to make this really happen.
We are paving the way to get interesting content online and boost demand. Fighting for innovation in how we license audiovisual content. Pushing governments to put their services online. Opening up Europe's public data, as a fuel for innovation – on which I am making a significant announcement next week.
Meanwhile, I have been clear that, as concerns net neutrality, a commitment to an open internet should not kill off the opportunity for innovative business models and service offers.
I have put on the table significant funds, tens of billions of euros for broadband, for ICT research and innovation, for digital public services. This at a time when Member States, quite understandably, question every cent.
And I have resisted regulations that would put an undue burden on this sector. I have been clear that we should be very careful before imposing broadband at a specific speed as a universal service obligation. And that we should not, in any case, put all the cost on the shoulders of a sector that has ahead of it such an important investment challenge.
I did not hesitate to take legal steps, where Member States tried to impose unlawful taxes on operators.
And, when it comes to mobile roaming, I have proposed moving away from relying on indefinite retail price regulation — towards an approach based on market competition. So that we can stimulate new demand by consumers, and new innovation by suppliers.
When it comes to promoting investment in next generation broadband, I have clarified the regulatory framework, while preserving competition and avoiding creating new monopolies.
I have sat down and discussed with the sector to try and find a way to meet the Digital Agenda broadband targets. To come up with clear actions – not high-level abstract principles, not a piece of paper agreeing to further meetings – but actions, to ensure we get Every European Digital.
And here I am again, sitting with you to discuss in detail how we could provide further guidance on key regulatory principles — such as costing methodologies and non-discrimination.
This approach to boost content, to provide funding, to avoiding burdensome regulation, to promote investment: I have not done all of this because it's an easy way forward. It isn't: it has taken political capital, and financial commitment.
And nor have I done all of this because I favour this or that sector, because I want to act in the interests of this or that company.
I have done it because it is the right thing to do, in the interests of EU, the interests of every European citizen.
Because it is essential to offer economic opportunity. It is essential to equip our citizens with the tools fit for the twenty-first century. And it is essential to offer our people competition and choice, without returning to the monopolies of the eighties.
So I share your conviction that ICT is essential to future growth. That is why I want to empower citizens by getting Every European Digital. And that is why I am determined, for the sake of Europe's prosperity and competitiveness, to achieve all this.