Francisco Ruiz Antón
Head of Public Policy and Government Relations at GOOGLE Spain & Portugal
“Some European economic sectors that missed the digital boat are trying to win in their offices a war that they are not winning in the markets”
How does Google see Spain?
Spain is a very important market for Google. In fact, Google has decided to bring its fourth Campus for entrepreneurs to Madrid, following in the footsteps of London, Tel Aviv, and Seoul. Perhaps this country has depended too much on service sectors, construction, and tourism. The more we diversify the Spanish production model, the better protected our economy will be in the future so that we can avoid a repeat of recent events.
What do we need to change in order to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital world?
In 2013, Mr. Barroso, then president of the European Commission, said that in 2020 there would be two hundred thousand jobs in the sphere of the digital economy in Europe, which we would not be able to cover due to a lack of professionals with the right profiles and abilities. If we want to change the production model and take advantage of the growth of the digital economy, part of the population has to have these capacities. Our regulatory system should facilitate this work. Nevertheless, traditional economic forces tend to try to maintain the status quo by promoting protectionism, and it is clear that some European economic sectors that missed the digital boat are trying to win in their offices a war they are not winning in the markets.
Do you worry that the European digital single market will become an instrument of protectionism?
If it is properly exploited, European GDP could grow by two percentage points, and more than four hundred thousand jobs could be created. But we are also concerned about risks, since we can see that there are forces within the EU that consider it necessary to promote protectionism in the digital sphere in order to ensure that Europe can catch up with the United States, with non-European Internet companies subject to stricter regulations than European ones.
What are the next steps that Spain should take in the sphere of connectivity?
Spain has a very big advantage in that the Internet is tending more toward the mobile format. In fact, we are the European country with the highest prevalence of mobile phones: 108 telephones per 100 inhabitants. During the last few months, for the first time more Google searches are being carried out worldwide via mobile than on desktop computers or laptops. That is why digital skills must be promoted among the population. At Google we are developing the “Actívate” project with twenty-one Spanish public universities to encourage these digital skills among young Spaniards, a population where unemployment rates stand at over 50 percent. In less than a year and a half, more than 297,000 people have signed up and more than 53,000 certificates have been awarded. We are not the only company to do something like this. It is also very interesting that these initiatives can be public-private or private-public.
Why is Spain one of the few countries that does not have Google News?
Some publishers have convinced the government to issue a law that makes it possible to extract money from Google. We have had to close in Spain because we are not going to pay for that. It’s a question of principles. Now it is clear that this is not good for Google, or the advertisers, or users—or even the publishers, since they have lost traffic, in particular in the case of the smaller companies. The image this gives off abroad, which isn’t true to life because Spain is not a digital unfriendly country, has been very negative for the Spanish brand.