Neelie Kroes: “Silicon Valley is a very good example”, although “Barcelona needs to find its own model”

ACN interviewed Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Digital Agenda. Her “dream” would be to reach a European Union single market for mobile phone and internet services. “It is not normal” that when crossing artificial borders, “the borders from the past, you can see it in your bills” she said. Kroes affirmed that by 2015, mobile phone roaming fees from one EU country to another will have ceased. The EU Commissioner was attending the Mobile World Congress, which takes place in Barcelona every year. Kroes praised Barcelona’s good job at organising the MWC. And she stated that the Catalan capital “needs to find its own model”, although “Silicon Valley is a very good example”.

CNA / Jordi Pueyo i Busquets

March 1, 2012 09:42 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The Vice President of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, who is the Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, stated that Silicon Valley is “a very good example” for Barcelona to follow. The city could become an ICT centre at world level, after having been declared the Mobile World Capital. However, Kroes said that she is always “very careful” in saying “I want to copy someone”, because the Catalan capital “needs to find its own model”. In order to achieve this, “there is enough weight here in Europe to develop our centres of excellence”, affirmed Kroes, who was European Commissioner for Competition between 2004 and 2009. Furthermore, Kroes stated that “Barcelona deserves” to be the Mobile World Capital, because the city “is doing an extremely good job”. Besides, she emphasised that in Spain there are “many people with talent” and “an entrepreneurial” spirit, which is essential to overcoming the economic crisis, according to her. Kroes has been included on several occasions in Forbes ranking among the 100 most influential women on the planet.

Barcelona has been declared the Mobile World Capital. There were other European cities among the candidates. Are you happy with the decision?

It would be very dangerous to give the wrong answer in Barcelona [she smiled]. To be honest, Barcelona deserves it. Barcelona is doing an extremely good job. However, my people were a bit surprised last night because they wanted to use the street bikes, however only citizens are allowed [she laughed]. Jokes aside and talking again about the conference, Barcelona is performing an absolutely top job. This conference is the best in the world and it is gathering all the whiz kids and those meant to take the decisions in this field.

Is it possible that thanks to being the Mobile World Capital and organising the MWC each year, Barcelona could become an important technological centre, a European Silicon Valley so to say?

I'm always very careful in saying that I want to copy someone. I think you should be yourself and there is enough weight in Europe, to develop our centres of excellence. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't learn from others such as Silicon Valley, which is a very good example that in a very short period of time those entrepreneurs made a big effort and reached great results. Talking about Spain, you have impressive entrepreneurs and start-ups. For instance a 19-year-old guy who started his own company two years ago, he's still at university and he is not the first youngster [of this kind] that I’ve met in Spain… it’s extremely impressive. By the way, he developed GeeksPhone. Instead of using the other phones, he created his own. This proves that entrepreneurship and start-ups develop their ideas, also in certain economic climates, as two years ago there was already a sort of crisis in Spain. Two years ago I was at the Campus Party and I saw so many extremely talented young people, boys and girls, who were just taking the initiative… crisis or not, they had initiative and some are successful and some are failing. But we also have to learn when you fail that you should never give up. You're learning! I learned more from my failures than from my successes. Entrepreneurship. People taking the initiative, that’s what Europe needs. And there are quite a number of them in this generation.

Will the European Commission contribute to Barcelona's IT sector and endorse its Mobile World Capital status?

We are looking forward to the results and, at the end of the day it is the municipality of Barcelona, the regional government and the Spanish government who do it. And I’m aware they are doing so. I’ve met with the new Minister of Spain responsible for industry and economic affairs and we’ve agreed on how important it is to push for new initiatives. It is not only a time we have to tackle the crisis, the financial and economic crisis, but is also the time we have to rethink what type of economy Europe wants. And I am absolutely stimulated to push for the creation of jobs, to give more hope especially to the younger generations.

“The difference between roaming and national tariffs should approach zero by 2015” says the Digital Agenda. What is the European Commission doing to reach that goal?

We are very active on that. It’s an important issue. I completely agree with all those European citizens and non-European citizens who complain about the difference in price when we cross an artificial border. As you are aware, it is one single market without borders and only when you cross the artificial borders, the borders from the past, can you see it on your bills, how to say. So that is not normal. And we are doing our best. We're discussing the issue with the Parliament, and the Parliament is very much on the Commission’s side to push for a change. And then hopefully we all get lower tariffs, and indeed far more transparency and far more choice for the user, the customers.

And will it happen by 2015?


Continuing on the topic of fees, there is a widespread complaint in Spain that it is the European country with the most expensive Internet broadband access. What are your views on that? Should the European markets be more homogeneous in that sense? What is the European Commission doing on this issue?

They are two points to be made. Number one: we need far more broadband investment to be made. In Spain there is 100% broadband coverage but not high-speed broadband. We are aware that data will grow like hell, so to say; it’s not a dream [but a certainty]. A lot of data needs high-speed treatment and that means more investment in high-speed broadband. Secondly, it's not only high-speed optical fibre investment; it is a mix. So it depends, it can be mobile phone investment, it can be cable, or even a new and very innovative cable too. So it is really a mix.

Should a real and effective single market of mobile phone service exist at European Union level? Do you think it exists now?

My dream is indeed that there is one single market for these kinds of services. Furthermore, there should be more homogenous aspects in our policy regarding the single market.

It is said that Spain is the paradise of illegal downloads. What do you think about that?

Illegal is always wrong. And people have to behave according to the rules. Talking about the legality, it is also a push for the European Commission, for Brussels, to solve the problem of intellectual property rights. If it is difficult to find a legal way because we didn't do the job in time, then it is a way to push people, it is what is pushing me to react. We should hurry up in tackling the intellectual property rights for there are a couple countries that did tackle that problem already. In Scandinavian countries you can see that there are examples in which entrepreneurs have taken the initiative and they marketed a good offer; they offered a product or a choice of products, where people who are buying them are certain they are legal and get what they want. We need to be aware that we have to tackle illegal downloads.

Will the 112 smartphone app the European Commission is working on be available in Catalan?

I'm not absolutely 100% certain. However, letters, emails and SMS can be sent in Catalan language to the European Commission’s representation in Barcelona, and they are answered in this language.