The Parliamentary Internet Communications and Technology Forum held a meeting entitled “The Europe Debate” and headlined it by inviting Bill Cash MP, not some one who I’d identify as an expert on ICT nor on the European Union. The three speakers were Julian David of “tech UK“, Graham Hobbs and Bill Cash MP, Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee . The key questions asked, were to be, Do UK technology companies benefit from EU membership? Is the Digital Single Market good for UK business? They also produced a Briefing Paper for delegates.
Julian David, the CEO of “tech UK“, speaking on behalf of his organisation which represents IT organisations. His key point is that business wants scale and certainty. He quoted the impact of the European Space Agency on the British economy acting as an investment focus. He suggested that improvements in the digital single market could be made and point at the EU’s Digital Agenda for Europe. Their goals are listed on this page and are about the Single Market, Standards & Interoperability, Trust & Security, Research & Innovation, digital skills & inclusion, and community benefits. The challenge here is how to create a public policy environment that encourages the adoption of the benefits of the programme and then how to participate. The EU’s engagement processes are often opaque and the UK government is rarely helpful.
He also catalogued some of the UK’s competitive advantages with the rest of Europe. These include the quality of the universities, the skills market and the language. English is the now the global language of commerce but also the primary language of technology. The latter a result of the world leadership shown by the USA in their technology markets and university sector; it also reinforces the power & attractiveness of the British universities. He also mentioned the issues of money (currency), the courts and corruption. Hopefully, the courts are an advantage, while it’s the low levels of corruption that work in the UK’s favour, although Transparency International has Britain as 14th least corrupt in the World. He also added that London attracts skilled people. He also mentioned our timezone, which is one hour nearer Silicon Valley and Seattle, and the ubiquity and stability of the UK’s data & power networks. He didn’t talk about the London flood plain although it’s not a disadvantage when talking about he Netherlands.
Graham Hobbs of Motorola Solutions spoke next and spoke about standards; how the EU acted as an incubator of industry defining standards such as GSM & TETRA and also WEE which he ruefully admitted had been opposed by much of industry. He also looked at the split relationship between innovation and standards i.e. standards create markets yet innovation may act in an anti-standard fashion. In fact the innovators may offer non standard functionality as competitive advantage and through intellectual property ownership as barriers to entry. He also raised the huge single market problem of multiple currencies. He also pointed out that product liability laws still vary between member states of the EU.
Bill Cash closed the panel presentation. He raised the issue of the EU’s Digital Agenda for Europe and urged the companies represented to get their views in to the consultation currently being conducted. He argued that the digital economy is growing, but that EU trade was shrinking. (He argued that the UK was -£47bn with the EU, and +13bn with the rest of the world. [ This surprises me, and needs further study ])
He addressed the lack of ICT expertise in parliament, arguing that legislators need to know how to make law. (I’d suggest that the debacle of the Digital Economy Act and even of the Copyright Act suggests this isn’t enough; I’d also add that Cash has been an MP for a long time, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s learnt a lot, there are many MPs with little experience.) He quoted Dr. Roland Vaubel and his concept of Regulatory Collusion, which sounded quite interesting. He has been obviously influential in Cash’s thinking, as he has quoted him several times on his blog and in Parliament. I thought he was referring to the nature of regulatory organisational capture by those they should be policing, but is in fact an economic theory that transnational regulators will collude against the citizen. (Is this a variant of the principal/agent problem?). On a brief review of his paper, “The political economy of Labor Market Regulation by the European Union” he argues that the move in the European Union to QMV has increased the collusion by regulators against a free market in labour at the cost of increasing uncompetitiveness, by design, in the EU. He notes the UK’s habitual resistance to these moves. Interesting stuff but at the end still based on values. If you think the ‘free labour market’ is good then you oppose the social chapter, if you believe in workers rights then the ‘collusion’ is merely the expression of pan-european political will. It means that the capture of regulators by the regulated is left unexamined but is clear if one studies the current policies of the UK regulators from FCA to Ofcom. The upshot of Cash’s comments on making good law is that MPs need to be supplied with expertise. He finished with an appeal to help frame and make evidenced based policy. This was a contribution that I had not expected.)
Since Julian David mentioned Corruption, and while writing up his presentation, I decided to perform a bullshit check on the claim that the UK is a particularly non-corrupt business environment; Transparancy International’s 2013 report is here. Britain is the 14th least corrupt in the World, 10th least corrupt in Europe and 6th least corrupt in the EU. The scale seems based on human judgement rather than any objective criteria, but here is their interactive map which allows you to explore at your heart’s content.
This was written and published in July 2014, but backdated to the date of occurrence.
Featured Image credit : @flickr Christopher Coterell 2005 CC BY-NC-SA – resized