“The digital transformation continues to have a strong impact on our daily life and has led to radical changes in almost every part of Europe’s economy and society. Although the EU Digital Single Market strategy of 2014 was a first important step to make the European Union future-proof for the digital era, I believe that many relevant policy questions remain unanswered.”
This is the beginning of my own digital manifesto published in January, calling on the European Commission to quickly draw up its plans to further develop the Digital Single Market. Almost a year later, my statement still stands. The strategies that were built up were very important first steps – but if we do not follow up on it by heavily investing in our own digital sovereignty, we will end up as a digital colony of the US or China, uncompetitive and without a voice of our own.
Currently, none of the top 15 digital companies is European. There is no significant European operating system, browser, social media network or search engine. The investment gap compared to the USA and China is estimated at €190 billion per year. Our response to this challenge has been a wide range of incoherent, fragmented interim solutions following lengthy decision-making processes. It seems that we need to jump on the moving train, yet we are still standing at the platform discussing which seat to take. Not only will this approach prevent us from ever catching up with a rapidly changing technological environment, it may also give our citizens the impression that the European political class has lost control – a perception that could ultimately result in a significant loss of trust in our democratic system.
Hence, we need to go beyond first step measures. We need to invest heavily in our digital infrastructure and technology “made in the EU”. Although the Commission is already promising investments, what we need is a mobilisation of private and public investments at the scale of the European Green Deal. In fact, a transformation of our digital infrastructure will also strengthen our sustainability and thus both major initiatives should go hand in hand.
We need to invest heavily in our digital infrastructure and technology “made in the EU”. Although the Commission is already promising investments, what we need is a mobilisation of private and public investments at the scale of the European Green Deal. In fact, a transformation of our digital infrastructure will also strengthen our sustainability and thus both major initiatives should go hand in hand.
We also need to invest in digital competence and education. Right now, a graduate in data science who wants to develop new technologies will move to the Silicon Valley. The EU has to become an attractive location for innovation if it wants to remain a large competitive economy. And thirdly, we need to invest in start-ups and digital companies to scale up. Only 12 big new European companies were able to scale up since 1951, compared to 51 in the US. Thus, we need to provide easy access to venture capital and ease the administrative burden on SMEs and start-ups.
To achieve this, I would like to see clear prioritisation. We need to have a clear picture about our areas of strength that we should reinforce, our critical deficiencies that we should overcome and the upcoming disruptive technologies in which strong investments make sense. That way, we can prioritise in which technologies we want to be leading competitors, whether its cloud computing, automated cars or digital finance, and start heavily investing in these sectors as flagship areas. Our objective should be to become less dependent on non-European technologies and services, while establishing sound ethical, technological and security standards.
To put such measures in place, we need to change the way political processes and governmental systems work by making legislative procedures more effective. To achieve a truly harmonised Digital Single Market, we need EU regulations instead of directives with constant impact assessment. It took us ten years from the first consultations for GDPR to its actual implementation. We cannot afford these delays in a race with competitors like China.
While I commend the proposals made by the European Commission, the clock is ticking. The scenario of becoming a digital colony will put our competitiveness at risk for the long term. If we do not have a say in shaping the next technological stage, actors who do not share our core values and standards will dominate the process, with troubling consequences for our privacy, security and our prosperity. Our goal should be to strive for a European way of digitalisation in a Digital Single Market 2.0: human-centred, value-oriented and based on the social market economy, without becoming protectionist. New digital innovation is not possible without international cooperation and free flow of data. However, cooperation needs to be built on trust and respect of our values.