Digitalisation is a race we are bound to lose if we do not move quickly. With digitalisation completely overhauling our infrastructure, workplaces and day-to-day life, getting ahead in developing and using modern technology is critical. In fact, our living standards and the prosperity and security of the entire continent depend on it.
However, we are held back by bureaucracy and slow decision-making processes, while our competitors are rushing forward and do not play by the rules. Let us take Nuctech for example: the Chinese state-owned company supplies European airports with security technology such as body scanners.
Through its dumping strategies, Nuctech’s presence on the European market is growing rapidly, although the company provides the Chinese government with the security data it collects in our midst. The European Commission, while being aware of the problem, does not react fast enough for competition reasons, thus risking yet another big data surveillance scandal.
The Nuctech example clearly illustrates how we are not only falling behind economically due to China’s use of extremely low-pricing strategies on European markets, but also risking our national and European security. It is however only one, not even very prominent, example.
“There is no significant European browser, social media platform or search engine. We only have a few years to move forward before we will fall out of the race completely”
German cities, for instance, are also buying their ‘smart city’ technology from Huawei because it is very advanced and very cheap. We are facing the same problem when it comes to 5G networks. As long as providers like Huawei stick to our rules, it will be very difficult to justify excluding them from European markets.
Yet, it is very likely that the constant updating of 5G infrastructure will expose a huge security vulnerability, with massive amounts of data likely to be made available to the Chinese government. That is why we have to be more radical.
The proposal from the European Commission to allocate €3bn in funding to digital infrastructure like 5G under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) should be considered just as a starting point. Rather, the Commission should follow up on its commitment to set comprehensive standards for any third country operator and strictly supervise their conduct.
This must go beyond ethical provisions and involve setting binding rules and strict red lines when it comes to advanced technology, including common safeguards for products such as body scanners provided by Nuctech or infrastructure like 5G networks operated by Huawei.
In addition, we need to support the 5G rollout by ensuring an investment-friendly environment for European providers that allows for fast, non-bureaucratic and cost-e cient network deployment. We need to provide fi nancial incentives for Member States and their communes to get 5G support that does not force them to opt for foreign solutions due to cost reasons and show that the administrative process is not a hurdle.
Moreover, we need to ensure that a European 5G network is as cyber-resilient as possible. However, what we should collectively strive for is European digital sovereignty and a real European Digital Single Market. We need to be independent from foreign technology when it comes to critical infrastructure, which is a matter of national security.
We need 5G “Made in Europe.” And we need to prioritise the development of certain technologies that we are already strong in and invest in those to get ahead of our competitors. The investment gap compared to China or the US is estimated at €190bn per year.
“If we do not move quickly, we are bound to become a ‘data colony’ of China - jeopardising our prosperity, our security and the democratic values that Europe stands for”
Not a single one of the world’s top 15 digital companies is European. There is no significant European browser, social media platform or search engine. We only have a few years to move forward before we will fall out of the race completely. What is still holding us back is the division of the Digital Single Market.
We need to fi nally synchronise our national regulatory frameworks. European digital businesses are placed at a disadvantage, although only a strong European Digital Single Market can protect our interests. EU Member States should consider that in their positions, instead of blocking harmonisation.
With a strategic plan, strong political will and large investments, Europe can still catch up in a secure manner. However, if we do not move quickly, we are bound to become a ‘data colony’ of China - jeopardising our prosperity, our security and the democratic values that Europe stands for.