Merkel Says There’s Money to Be Made in EU Data Laws

European data privacy rules, sometimes seen as a drag on developing the digital economy, have a flip side of offering money-making opportunities to companies, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The European Union’s comparatively strict data protection regulations create “exciting” opportunities to develop digital products, Merkel said in a speech to technology industry executives today in Berlin.

This gives European start-ups chances that are not the focus of non-European competitors, said the leader of the continent’s biggest economy. German Internet companies reported sales of 79 billion euros ($98 billion) in 2014, equal to 3 percent of economic output, according to the Economy and Energy Ministry website.

Companies in Europe need to ratchet up competition in all areas of digital production and avert protectionist policies, said Merkel. “Europe can’t strike its own unique path globally, yet it could focus on certain areas such as personal data,” she said. “High sensitivity in the area of data protection must be harnessed constructively.”

Merkel pledged she’ll secure Germany a share of future Internet business amid competition from the U.S. As the European Union’s Commission grapples with rewriting the 28-nation trade bloc’s rules on data mining and privacy, Merkel wants industry to leapfrog U.S. rivals by writing digital interfaces compliant with the coming regulations.

Merkel said she’s “very happy” to have Germany’s Guenther Oettinger as commissioner in charge of the EU’s digital economy to revamp a data protection directive that will create a legal footing for mining big data.

Companies including Deutsche Telekom AG are seeking a bigger part of Internet business in areas such as vehicle usage.