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The European Customs Union celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018. The success of the Customs Union is an unprecedented feat of technical and political achievement – one that signifies the importance of the European Union at its best. But that’s not all. It also inspired a monumental shift to digital and the redesign of processes to accelerate Europe’s digital transformation, which is ongoing.

The success of the Customs Union is one of the best examples of harmonisation and the spirit of solidarity between the Member States. With over 100,000 customs officers in the EU, the Customs Union is grounded by IT processes and backup systems, providing transparency for Member State authorities, companies and individuals.

The EU’s commitment to invest in IT integration of Member State systems and create centralised networks is a compelling and continuous success story for Europe. At the heart of this story is Europe’s thriving IT sector which has rapidly evolved and positions the EU as a global technological leader. This is partly owing to the EU determination to excel through unification.

What now? How do we keep momentum going? How is the digital reality transforming our EU dream in this new era of connections and connectivity?

The new industrial revolution, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 for short, is here. It has started to leverage differences and integrate cyber-physical systems and the new-generation information technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, big data and data analytics, robotics, Artificial Intelligence and 3D printing. In the hands of Europe’s smart software engineers, the advent of all these new technologies and advanced tools is essentially translating into a common language shared across the Member States. And the result is remarkable.

But the work is not done. There is so much more that can be done to accelerate the digital transformation so Europe becomes the envy of the world. It’s about making a real impact. It’s about our collective future.

In Europe today, we are experiencing one of the largest digital transformation initiatives ever attempted. Coming together, EU Member States and Institutions are striving for real interconnectedness. This ambitious endeavour is about carving out a new path for future growth and value creation, which in digital societies knows no borders. It truly is borderless and global.

So in a world where code is once again king and data is boss, the EU is rightly building an inclusive society that embraces the digital transformation – including all the new technologies and innovation that comes with it. Ultimately, this transformation will have tangible results for Europeans with competitive jobs, improved public services and better health.

No doubt Europe’s digitalisation vision hinges on the credibility and success of the EU project. This makes it important – more than ever before – for Europe to take the lead in fostering digital inclusion, green growth, innovation and globalisation.

Enormous opportunities and countless possibilities are on the horizon. Digital technologies are serving as enormous enabling potential. This makes Europe’s continued investment in cutting-edge and exponential technologies like AI and virtual reality and robotics, absolutely vital.

These are turning-point technologies that are already bringing about socio-economic benefits and creating future-proof jobs. For instance, it is these automation technologies that will soon put driverless and connected cars on the road, reducing emissions from transports. This is just one example from a long list of possibilities in strong digital sectors such as electronics for security and energy markets, telecom equipment and business software.

Recent studies estimate that digitisation of products and services can add more than EUR 110 billion of annual revenue to the European economy in the next couple of years. Now is definitely the time for Europe and its industries to become more adventurous and develop even more innovative products and services.

Such is the case with the Customs Union – the most developed and advanced customs union in the world. Since its founding 50 years ago, it has responded to the rapidly changing landscape. Its response has been fast, agile, innovative and coordinated. And while its creation set in motion the Single Market and significantly contributed to the stability of the EU, the future of the Customs Union will be no less remarkable. Its the EU’s competitive advantage.

Head of EU Delivery and Country Manager, Belgium, INTRASOFT International