By Daniel Hunter

Businesses and consumers across Europe are being let down by the “patchwork” approach to the digital economy in Europe, business secretary Vince Cable will warn in a speech in Brussels today (Tuesday).

Europe has led the digital revolution in certain areas, such as Estonia’s use of digital government, the roll-out of high-speed broadband in some countries, or the ‘financial tech’ community in the UK. But the European digital economy remains 28 different markets, each with its own regulations.

Speaking at the Lisbon Council’s Robert Schumann lecture, Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

"In today’s world of smartphones and wi-fi, consumers who have paid for a service rightly expect to be able to use it across borders in the EU. But at the moment we have a patchwork quilt of digital content and services - very good in some places but threadbare in others.

"That’s why I’m calling for the creation of a digital single market. Not only would this boost UK and Eurozone economies by €340 billion but it will make online prices fairer, enable startups to be formed within 24 hours, and help businesses sell throughout the EU."

Available content on online streaming services such as Netflix varies wildly across the EU, and UK subscribers are often unable to stream content they have paid for when they are abroad. Where consumers are shopping online, they are often unable to access promotional offers available in other countries, such as 2-for-1 offers.

An online single market should also give consumers confidence that they can buy digital products online with adequate protection, and that their data is not being misused. Currently, over half of British consumers choose to pay more to buy online in the UK rather than overseas, because they’re unclear whether they can get a refund if something goes wrong.

The recommendations were published in ‘the UK’s vision for the EU’s digital economy’, which also highlights the benefits a digital single market would have for startups selling across the EU. In particular, businesses would not need a physical address in a country to register for a website with that domain name, startups would benefit from a single, online company law process allowing firms to be formed within 24 hours, and administrative processes could be completed once, not 28 times.

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has already identified a digital single market for consumers and businesses within his top 5 priorities for the Commission, and the UK government hopes the expertise of the Latvian Presidency will ensure significant progress is made toward establishing a digital single market in the EU.

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