Previously the state premier of the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, Mr. Oettinger has served as E.U. energy commissioner since February 2010. But following his appointment as the bloc’s incoming digital czar, he has wasted little time switching to the challenges facing Europe in the Internet age.
Handelsblatt: Mr. Oettinger, the European Union is in danger of sleeping through the digital revolution. What will you do to wake the Europeans up?
Günther Oettinger: First of all, we need a delegation of responsibilities. The E.U., the national governments, states and communities must clarify who is responsible for what, and what will be done jointly. I will soon submit a recommendation along those lines.
Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges said, “When it comes to the digitalization of the economy, Europe clearly lost the first half of the game.” Time is short. Might clarification of responsibilities hold us back?
We are behind, that is true. But you can only lose a full game. Just by virtue of the fact that we recognize our deficiencies, means we have the chance to catch up. Deutsche Telekom plays an important role here. It has long been a strong national player, but does not have enough financial strength for the global market. We need to change that. We must make it possible, with a clever industrial policy, for our companies to be able to grow at the global level.
Chancellor Merkel thinks that competition rules hinder telecommunications companies too strongly. Do you agree?
We must not thwart collaboration and mergers in the IT industry with competition rules that are too strict.
In Europe there are only four large telecom companies. Should there be even fewer?
No. It is a question of promoting the mergers and collaboration of the many small regional IT and telecom providers. One or two large corporations could develop out of that. In Germany, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone are very strong, but their market share in Europe is considerably smaller. The European telecommunications market in comparison with the American is too fragmented and the earnings are too weak.
Is the E.U. to blame for that?
To some extent, yes. Until now we have taken care that the consumers profit from the liberalization of the telecommunication market. In the future there should be more emphasis on making it possible for the companies to receive reasonable profits.
For example, by liberalizing network charges?
It involves all areas of state regulation, including network charges.
Will the concept already presented for a Telecoms Single Market (TSM) be changed again?
The TSM plan is currently being discussed in the Council of Ministers. I am waiting for its position and will then introduce an industry policy approach. I am curious about the reaction of the member nations.
Now to the topic of net neutrality. You are of the opinion that there should only be right-of-way on the Internet for public interests. What does that mean?
I am talking about things like disaster response or medical care.
Angela Merkel has suggested creating categories of services.
With the post office it has always been the case that one could send bulk mail, a letter or an express letter.
Those who pay more get more speed?
I am not categorically against it, but you have to be careful. If there are too many categories, then the lower end of the Internet will possibly not be reliable or available all the time. It should not get to this point of social disadvantage.
There will only be fast Internet when more is invested in the network. What are you doing along those lines?
The lion’s share of investments must come from private companies. But we must encourage this investment.