A digital recipe for European success

If Europe wants to compete with China and the US, it needs to invest, writes Paul Rübig.
Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Paul Rübig

26 Nov 2018

The European Single Market is one of the EU’s success stories. The free movement of goods, labour, capital and services has boosted in Europe’s economy by tearing down the (economical) walls between states and also European citizens.

Equally trade, as an EU competence, shows Europe’s added value daily, with Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) one of the most the most effective levers the EU has in a global competition.

In this digital era, it is vital we ensure the Single Market becomes a true Digital Single Market. At the European Parliament, we are truly convinced; roaming charges are a good start, but there must be more – but member states are standing on the brake. Another issue undermining the Digital Single Market is geo-blocking, where films, music or media are not available in every EU country.


Technological development usually outpaces regulation; ideal, as innovation and entrepreneurship should not be blocked. Our aim should be to create the perfect framework for entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists to pursue innovation and technologies.

The European Union provides the world largest research framework programme – Horizon 2020. Funded with 80 billion Euro it will evolve into Horizon Europe. Yet to compete globally with China and the United States, we must do more.

A group led by Pascal Lamy has made it clear that Europe has to double the budget for research and innovation, it Europe wants to be number one in the world.

The main field of competition between states and regions of the world will be everything that relates to “Big Data”. On mobile payment systems, AI, Cloud Computing or eCommerce, China leads the world. In 2010, China’s share of worldwide eCommerce was zero - today it is 40 percent.

“Our aim should be to create the perfect framework for entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists to pursue innovation and technologies”

Asia and USA are also leaders when it comes to supercomputers. Six of the world’s fastest supercomputers are in the US, one is in China and one in Japan. Europe has just one – in Switzerland.

I am therefore glad that in February this year, the European Parliament decided to create a joint cluster support, to buy and operate supercomputers. By 2023 at the latest, Europe has to be among the leading powers when it comes to supercomputers.

When it comes to data, we must not forget security. This is an important topic for every citizen within Europe and every state and company worldwide. However, the issue of “data protection” is not viewed with equal importance in Europe, with differences between member states.

While Estonia is focusing completely on optimising data use with highest the possible protection and transparency, other regions are more looking at potential risks. When we shift to a global level, the differences could not be greater.

In China, for example, data protection has no priority for citizens. The EU is committed to the highest-possible data protection for citizens, clients and companies. Every day immense amounts of data are collected and exchanged.

“Europe needs to break down all digital barriers and roll out the latest 5G standard as soon as possible”

This can be a good thing; medical science can use it to improve research on diseases and medicines; doctors can personalise the treatment of each patient with it.

Yet there must be accountability when it comes to data use. There is a risk that we are creating a new elite with the knowledge about ICT, big data and digitalisation, while the rest of the people have no idea what it can do. One of the most important issues will be to create transparency.

Estonia, for example, created a system where citizen’s data are used in a smart way to optimise state services for the citizen. At the same time, citizens can see who (in state service or doctor) accessed their data. That optimises data usage with the highest possible transparency on your own data.

Yet this is irrelevant without the appropriate infrastructure, capable of maximising the value of supercomputers, creating a Europe-wide network, providing high-speed internet for companies, start-ups, universities and other research facilities.

This is why Europe needs to break down all digital barriers and roll out the latest 5G standard as soon as possible, with Europe-wide allocation of frequencies and greater investments in the digital infrastructure.

Yet research and development of AI and the Internet of Things Europe also need budget and perfect infrastructure. The European Commission provided €1bn in the Horizon 2020 framework (with an additional €2.1bn in private funds) for Artificial Intelligence.

In the area of ICT, digitalisation, digital infrastructure and innovation, Europe is best when it works together. Removing digital barriers within single market, no artificial frontiers between states for services and communication – but optimising when funding and supporting new technologies and implementing smart regulation to encourage innovation.

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