Today, I will be attending a Startup Europe policy roundtable in the European Parliament, co-hosted by MEP Eva Paunova, bringing together once more a slew of entrepreneurs, investors and pundits from across the region to talk about how Europe can foster an environment that enables (more) technology startups to scale (faster).

Later this week, European Commission VP Andrus Ansip will present his strategy for the creation of a Digital Single Market (DSM), which will be of major interest to startups from across the EU. A draft copy of the plan and other documents have already been leaked (see coverage in The Wall Street Journal and Politico Europe) but it will still be interesting to see if startups – and scale-ups – will be at the center of the DSM strategy.

To urge Commissioner Ansip to do just that, an unprecedented coalition of startup associations from across the European Union have today sent a join letter on behalf of their local ecosystems.

In total, 15 associations from 13 member states are banding together to underwrite the letter, itself an initiative from Allied for Startups, a worldwide network of advocacy organisations focused on improving the policy environment for startups. You can find the names of participating associations and their representatives below; we’ve reprinted the letter in full below.

While it’s encouraging to see, for the first time, startup associations unite to address the European Commission with one voice – expectantly making it impossible for policy wonks to ignore – the question remains whether it is too little, too late.

After all, the strategy for a Digital Single Market has been pieced together by plans from the previous Commission, and a number of additions spearheaded by Mr. Ansip, and it is unlikely that major changes to the game plan will be made before its official unveiling next Wednesday.

That said, every little bit helps.

The letter, which you can read below, calls for action on consumer rights, data protection, copyright, tax and company law, including the introduction of simple, online processes for: registering a web domain, forming a company, paying VAT, hiring resources and managing small equity investments.

The letter also urges the European Commission to avoid adding new burdens for entrepreneurs.


Melissa Blaustein, founder of Allied for Startups (pictured), said:

“When startup communities from 13 member states unite with one voice, the Commission must pay attention.

It’s vital for the future success of the European digital economy that policymakers listen to innovators and put startups at the heart of the Digital Single Market.”

Guy Levin, Executive Director of Coadec (UK), also weighed in:

“The European Commission now has the opportunity to show that its on the side of Europe’s innovators and disruptors. We hope Vice President Ansip seizes that chance and ensures the Digital Single Market package supports digital startups and entrepreneurship.”

And here’s the letter that was sent to Mr. Ansip this morning, in full:

Dear Vice President Ansip,

With just a few days to go until the unveiling of the Digital Single Market package, we are writing on behalf of Europe’s digital startups to ask you to put innovation at the heart of the proposals.

Between us, we represent the startup communities in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Portugal, Netherlands, The Slovak Republic, and Poland.

The onward march of Moore’s law has led to plummeting barriers to entry for digital businesses – with todays chips over a million times faster than forty years ago. Startups are now cheaper to start and can scale up more quickly than ever before. This is a hugely positive trend, but it also means that they run into international barriers much earlier in their lives.

The good news is that digital startups in Europe are thriving and in the last decade, Europe has created more than 30 ‘unicorns’, those elusive billion dollar tech companies. Companies like Spotify, TransferWise, Klarna and BlaBlaCar – all startups themselves not long ago – have become household names across the world.

But too often digital companies struggle to grow in Europe, and make the leap westwards to the US in search of a large market, uniform regulations, a more positive culture towards risk, and easier access to finance. 28 sets of regulatory requirements present a barrier even to big players, and can be insurmountable for startups.

We hope that the Digital Single Market package will aim to identify tangible barriers, and tackle those problems directly. It should be about encouraging innovation and reducing the barriers to growth.

That means things like a common set of consumer rights and a clear set of rules on data protection that give consumers confidence, but don’t stifle innovation. We need to make one-stop-shop systems work so that startups only have to deal with one regulator or tax authority.

We would like to see simple, single, and online processes for:

-registering a web domain
-forming a company
-paying VAT
-hiring resources
-manage small equity investments

It means going toward a 29th regime, for pan-european companies, to have really simplified management of contracts, operations, resources, and intending the proposed SUP scheme only as an intermediate step in that direction; but also copyright reform to help make content portable, and cross-border licencing simpler – letting the next Spotify scale up more quickly.

The package should be aimed at reducing the regulatory burden to allow high growth companies to thrive, rather than levelling up across the continent. This will require some tough choices that may upend some existing business models, but regulations should always be about protecting consumers from harms, not incumbents from competition.

We would also urge caution before embarking on attempts to regulate and create new laws for each technology in the digital market. For innovative and evolving companies to emerge and thrive in Europe it is key to avoid imposing strict horizontal regulation that may apply differently to each startup and place further burdens on entrepreneurs seeking to scale up within Europe.

We are optimists about the European digital economy, but this depends on leadership from policymakers to embrace innovation.

Yours sincerely,

Guy Levin, Executive Director, Coalition for a Digital Economy, United Kingdom
Virginie Lambert-Ferry, Campaign Director, France Digitale, France
Simon Schaffer, Founder, The Factory, Germany
Gianmarco Carnovale, Chairman, Roma Startup, Italy
Carmen Bermejo, CEO, Tetuan Valley, Spain
Miguel Arias, President, Chamberi Valley, Spain
Socratis Ploussas, President, Hellenic Startup Association, Greece
Nils-Erik Jansson, President, Young Entrepreneurs of Sweden, Sweden
Christian Walther Øyrabø, Chairman, Danish Entrepreneurs Association, Denmark
Veronika Pistyur, CEO, Bridge Budapest, Hungary
Ricardo Marvão, Co-founder and Board Member, Beta-I, Portugal
Bastiaan Zwanenburg, Managing Director, Young Creators, Netherlands
Ivan DebnárFounder, The Spot, The Slovak Republic
Przemysław Grzywa, Young Entrepreneurs Forum, Poland
Dimitris Tsingos, President, Yes For Europe (Young Entrepreneurs of Europe)
Melissa Blaustein, Founder, Allied for Startups

Featured image credit: gary yim / Shutterstock

  • Government moves slowly. In the meantime, a new startup should be created to provide, or manage the core legal, financial, and HR services requested in the letter above, to other startups. “ – Startups start here.” There’s clearly a large unmet need.

  • Pan European not for profit &/or consumer associations might be a good idea as well: to foster united and unified voices, making this kind of initiative slightly more … efficient and representative?

    • Bru_man

      … have already existed fo quite some time. For consumers it is BEUC and there are loads of NGOs in Brussels, too.

      • My apologies if this wasn’t clear: a pan-European legal entity for associations. BEUC for example is a Belgian legal entity, not a pan-European one, it’s just an “umbrella” organization, not the same thing

        • Bru_man

          If I may, I would politely disagree. BEUC has extensive staff in Brussels and drives policy as a European entitiy, no matter its legal nature. Also, while (being a rather pro European person), I can understand the good intention behind European organisations, I would caution you a bit. There is no “European” consumer. People’s tastes, national contexts, specific problems etc. differ a lot within Europe. Which position would a European entitiy defend, the Swedish, the German or the Spanish? I think associations of NGOs /associations are very important as the national associations will always be closer to their constituencies. They simply know the issues on the ground better and can then report this to the European level. In my view, many “european level only” organisations tend to lose contact with their constituents and do not necessarily act in their interest but rather in their own, i.e. the organisation’s, interest.

          That’s why I consider BEUC’s role and setup the right one. It moderates between the different European consumer positions and it channels the consumers’ voices at European level since no one could listen to 28 different organisations.

          • Amarabay

            Well, I do not share your analysis. You still think that EU countries’ interests are not interlinked, which they are more than ever.
            People in Europe living in different EU countries sometime have the same ideas. A good idea is not only German OR Spanish. People across Europe go on the streets the same day to defend the same idea with the same slogans so why not a single European Association of like-minded European. Europe is trying to speak with one voice, I really think that it is now time for European citizens to speak with one voice as well.
            At local level, there can always be agencies, offices, groups or anything similar. But as long as they are individual associations, they can opt in or out as they see fit and no real European opinion will ever be forged as it could only be based on compromises and you do not enter into a compromise if you have a choice to opt out.

          • Bru_man

            Obviously we are all interlinked. But how would in your opinion such an organisation keep track of the people it represents? Brussels is far away from the real work on the ground. You would need massive staff, 150 people, I would say, to follow all the problems people are having at home. That’s work better done by national associations…

          • Amarabay

            Indeed, this would mean a huge staff but how many staff members do 10 or 20 NGOs pull together, some of them doing the exact same thing in the same country?
            And as I said (I know, it is bad taste to cite oneself) : “At local level, there could always be agencies, offices, groups or something similar. ” The aim being to have Europeans from different countries, under a same roof, obliged to acknowledge the impact of their requests on other European citizens and to try to seek together for compromises.